Magazine article Art Monthly

Paul Morrison: Millennium Gallery Sheffield 7 June to 4 November

Magazine article Art Monthly

Paul Morrison: Millennium Gallery Sheffield 7 June to 4 November

Article excerpt

During the early noughties it appeared as if Paul Morrison was painting himself into a corner. His trademark black-and-white landscapes with their pared-down visual language risked becoming stale and repetitious. Though a deliberate strategy, the persistent recycling of motifs from the artist's visual lexicon of botanical imagery was beginning to feel tired. Yet, as the decade progressed, Morrison's palette of graphic tropes, drawn from the history of painting, children's book illustrations, engravings and cartoons, began to expand, serving to reinvigorate his practice. This major solo exhibition at Sheffield's Millennium Gallery provides a welcome opportunity to survey these and more recent developments while simultaneously representing a significant homecoming for the artist, who not only studied but now also lives and works in the city.

Any indication of human presence in Morrison's reductivist landscapes was previously confined to the occasional fence post. In recent years, however, houses, castles and other signs of human habitation have joined the usual cast of flowers, plants and trees. Take for instance Stipe, 2012, the impressive wall painting that opens the exhibition. Here a huge tree stump flanked by cartoon flowers dominates the foreground while in the distance, partially obscured by a towering flower, sits a silhouetted house resembling those common to Brothers Grimm storybooks. With smoke rising from its chimney, this crooked, fairytale abode alludes to an unseen occupant. The elusive resident is perhaps embodied by the adjacent work Tilia, 2012, a near life-size sculpture of a young woman dressed in Elizabethan costume. Covered in gold leaf, this enigmatic figure brings to mind the story of King Midas as well as any number of myths and legends in which people transmute into statues. It is a surprising and unusual work for Morrison but is not without precedent. The artist is certainly no stranger to sculpture; he has been making gargantuan, laser-cut aluminium versions of the plant forms found in his paintings for years. Even the Tilia character has appeared elsewhere, seen in the 2011 painting of the same name and displayed here alongside other canvases depicting humans and animals. One of these, Dendrobium, 2009, features a male figure who bears more than a passing resemblance to Alexander Nasmyth's 1787 portrait of Robert Burns. Unusually, it is one of the few works where a source image can ostensibly be identified and is perhaps a tacit nod to a painter primarily known for his landscapes. …

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