Critique of Nick Morris by Dr. Claudia Calirman

April 21, 2016

Dr. Claudia Calirman has a Ph.D. in Art History from The Graduate Center, The City University of New York. She teaches at Parsons School of Design, New York, and at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and is a Gallery Lecturer at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Pop culture, surfing, fashion, and graphic design: these are Nick Morris’s favorite things. Based in Torquay, a coastal town in Australia, Morris is part of the new generation of Australian artists that brings freshness and vitality into the art world. His paintings have a burst of energy infused with the language of Pop and graffiti art.

Morris’s canvases incorporate elements of written and visual arts in a way that recalls the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who personified the arts scene of New York in the eighties with his graffiti paintings. Basquiat developed a complex language of symbols and motifs that incorporated the influences of urban culture, comic heroes and music icons. Like Basquiat, Morris also explores imagery such as automobiles, comic books, eroticism, urban landscapes, naive art, as well as numbers and signs. Morris’s work also merges youth culture, money and hype, but rather than embracing the excess, drug addiction, depression and self-destruction that led Basquiat to his death by overdose in 1988, Morris, like many of his generation, is drawn to health and the cult of the body. It comes at no surprise that Morris revels in the surfing culture in Australia.

For the last years, Morris has been developing a long-term collaboration with the Melbourne-based artist David Bowers. Morris and Bowers created together “shared canvases”—a combination of screen-printed, hand-painted and stenciled canvases. Their collaboration started with the formation of a successful clothing-design label for young culture, and it slowly developed into the visual arts. Like Basquiat and Warhol, who made a number of collaborative works from 1982 until Warhol’s death in 1987, Morris and Bowers also paint together, in a free flow of exchange, influencing each others’ work. They paint with anything that gets to their hands: acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint, oil sticks, pencils as well as found objects. Like Warhol, Morris comes from a commercial background, meaning, graphic design and fashion. With a graphic knowledge of screen-printing, he appropriates his images from a vast resource of books and comics, as well still images taken directly from the TV screen. These digital photos are then scanned into the computer, creating a clear image which is then printed out and applied into the canvas. Stencils and airbrush are also used to gain spray painted effects.
Morris refers to his shared canvases with Bowers as “combines,” a term coined by Robert Rauschenberg in the 1950s. Rauschenberg’s combines were works that blended the traditional mediums of painting and sculpture. Many of his combines moved off the wall altogether and became freestanding objects. Morris’s and Bowers’ combine canvases also break up with traditional mediums in the way that they apply various mixed techniques in their work. Their images, however, are still emphatically flat. In their smooth surfaces, they are able to create a sense of kaleidoscopic collage, infusing pop imagery and graffiti-like visual effects in an age of digital-oriented pictures. Their canvases indicate that freshness is still possible in a culture exhausted by all sorts of visual bombardment.