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Robert J. Morris
In March 1906, Andre Derain, his paintbrushes filled with the colours he and Matisse had used the summer before at Colloure, painted a series of views of London in the footsteps of Turner and Monet. These pictures, containing pink hues, a yellow Thames, a green street, helped to establish the primacy of colour as directed by the painter's feelings and the necessity for colour relationships. In 1987, Robert J. Morris went to London and painted his canvasses in those bright, vibrating, abstract patterns so typical of his style. Morris, in spite of his abstraction, is at heart a Fauvist, and that characteristic was evident in his Archibald Prize entry, a self-portrait with Davida Alien.
Morris was the subject of a long interview contained in the March issue of the M.O.C.A. Bulletin, which helps put the exhibition in context. A striking development reflected both in the interview and the exhibition is the sense of confidence Morris is currently displaying. This hasn't been an easy process, and having known him over the past years, I admire him for his tenacity and resilience as a person, and the continued pushing of his styles into new directions. This last body of work shows Morris in full command. London is there to be conquered visually, the sculptures become more soaring and intricate, the drawings are subtle and precise.
The sculptures held particular interest for me. It is in the sculpture that Morris is at his adventurous best. From his early painted constructions of a few years ago to these intricate and kaleidoscopic structures, Morris is developing rapidly as a sculptor to take note of in an otherwise, with a few exceptions, rather barren period in Australian sculpture. Since this exhibition he has moved into steel: one work for Jim Baker's collection, and another for the Expo site. Both of these works reflect the interest in clouds shown in the piece of the same name in the exhibition.
The developments in sculpture are reflected in paintings. Coloura articulate with each other, planes recede and advance, canvasses are sometimes shaped. Some time ago Morris referred to his sculptures as three dimensional paintings. Now, we can perhaps talk of the canvasses as flat sculptures. Waterloo Bridge No.1 and No. 2, capture best the spatial qualities found in the sculptures.
The series of works on paper display the more reflective side of Morris's temperament: the London views more so than the figure studies which retain too much of the blatancy of the photographs from which they were likely to be derived.
Morris is remarkable for the consistency of his vision coupled with a relentless inventiveness, with an emphasis on the latter. The fact that he has always stayed with abstraction when the dominant trend is figuration, is not in itself a virtue. What is commendable is the way that he has expanded and developed over the years.