Ivan Morley: Patrick Painter
Miles, Christopher, Artforum International
While Ivan Morley has often included hand-lettered "anecdotes"--textual cocktails of oddball California lore and fantasies dreamed up by the artist--as nebulous primers and legends to his disparate work, no such guides were present in his recent show, leaving viewers to fend for themselves. But four works here, made in 2005 and 2006, all titled Tehachepi (sic) (a folksy misspelling of the name of the mountains that separate the Los Angeles basin from California's Central Valley), make Morley's modus operandi clear.
One Tehachepi (sic), in oil on canvas, is an allover composition packed with hard-outlined cartoonlike blossoms, each inlaid with a pastel shade, that intermingle to create shiftingly mottled blocks of color--imagine a symbolist/pointillist/Orientalist Pattern and Decoration Pop Rothko. Another, in oil and gold leaf on glass, is iconic, depicting a skull and crossbones adorned with what appears to be a hybrid between a grass skirt and a cheerleader's mini. The tops of the crossed femurs burn as torches while the bottoms morph into fists clutching pompoms. The iconic merges with narrative in a canvas combining oil, acrylic, batik, and embroidery that depicts a masked and helmeted ghost rider on a BMX bike, its ID plate marked with a toll-free telephone number and a dollar sign. Cycling straight at us through space under a crescent moon, the rider hauls as passengers a pair of tribal guardians and a drummer whose presence is made known only by sticks raised aloft. Another melange of process offers an arrangement, strangely like something a florist might assemble, of primitive weapons and obscure industrial objects, topped with a straw hat and hovering under a crescent moon in a smoldering sky. …