For more than 40 years, the art of Malcolm Morley has heightened viewers’ perceptions and expanded the possibilities for ways of seeing. Little explored until now is the seminal role of paper in his art-making process, whether as watercolors that serve as sources for paintings, scale models made of paper and attached to the canvas, or in the dimensionality of free-standing paper sculpture. Painting, Paper, Process will illustrate the artist’s working method while underscoring the seamless transition among paper mediums, including watercolor, lithography, etching, and monotype, and the dazzling passages of these inventive forays.
In the mid-1960s, Morley, newly arrived in New York from his native England, resolved to take on a big subject and chose to paint a large ocean liner berthed at a West Side pier. Attempting to set up a canvas, he realized that it was impossible to take in the enormous ship from one viewpoint, and he wound up buying a postcard of the subject to use as the model. “I went down with a canvas to paint a ship from life,” he recalled. “Then I got a postcard of a ship. The postcard was the object.”
In this way, Morley resolved for himself the issue of what to paint. Throughout his career, he has recognized that ready-made images drawn from sources as disparate as newspaper, glossy magazine, and his own watercolors, and paper models that he often fabricates himself, furnish ready inspiration. Images appear and reappear in his work, surfacing in different contexts, as Morley cycles through an ever-changing lexicon—in a way defying the viewer to focus on the subject of the work. Consequently, Morley has never been known for what could be called a signature style. He explains, “As soon as something I do is accepted and successful, I have to change it. You only really succeed by taking risks, and the artist who’s interesting has to invent them.”
Organized by Alicia G. Longwell, Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Chief Curator, Art and Education, Malcolm Morley: Painting, Paper, Process brings together some 50 works that have rarely been seen together and includes such diverse images as idyllic beach scenes; the artist’s beloved black and white border collie, Elsa, in play and repose; and knights in armor, WWII flying aces, and their present day inheritors, the sports stars who carry on the legacy of derring do. “I decided that this was contemporary mythology, and the sports stars were the heroes,” Morley says. “To be a hero, you have to take a risk, so of course the best ones are those that risk their lives—NASCAR drivers and people like that.” Ring of Fire (2009), the life-size, freestanding sculpture of a Motocross rider, is composed of heavyweight watercolor paper on an armature of plastic plumbing pipe. The “mud” on the piece is a mixture of paint and papier mâché flung with a toilet brush. “You can do a lot of things with paper,” Morley has said, “and I always think of sculpture as something in two dimensions that’s folded.”
The presentation of this exhibition is made possible in part by The Broad Art Foundation, Gael Neeson and Stefan Edlis, The Stanley Family Fund, Charles-Antoine Van Campenhout and Risteard Keating, Angela Westwater / Sperone Westwater, Xavier Hufkens, Andrea Krantz and Harvey Sawikin, James Cottrell and Joe Lovett.
The Museum’s programs are made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the property taxpayers from the Southampton School District and the Tuckahoe Common School District.
About Malcolm Morley
Born in London in 1931, Malcolm Morley attended the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts and the Royal College of Art before moving to New York in 1958. Initially drawn to Abstract Expressionism, by 1967 he was working representationally and became associated with the Photorealists, among them Ralph Goings and Richard Estes. Morley, however, prefers the term Superrealism. “My interest,” he has said, “was on a much bigger issue than so called ‘copying,’ and I would always cringe when ‘copying’ would come up because I always thought of [my work] as an interpretation, of translating the thing into a painterly invention.”
Since his first exhibition in New York, Morley has had numerous shows in Europe and North America and has participated in many international exhibitions, including Documenta 5 and 6. Following his 1983 retrospective at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, Morley was the first artist awarded the Turner Prize for British artists. Subsequent presentations of his work include a survey of watercolors at the Tate Gallery, Liverpool (1991), a one-artist show at the Musée national d'art moderne—Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1993), and a retrospective at The Hayward Gallery, London (2001). Morley’s work can be found in museum collections worldwide. He has maintained a house and studio in Brookhaven on the East End of Long Island since 1983.