Perhaps Aaron Morse’s proper province is somewhere in Europe near the conclusion of the 19th century, during that sustained burst of interest in the symbolic imagination. For a bevy of painters at that time and place, a belief in the mysterious world of symbols led to a remarkable synthesis of cultures and visual strategies. Paul Gauguin melded emotive, expressionist concerns with the solidity of Byzantine icons and tribal art. James Whistler’s famous interest in music led him to pitch a relationship between tones, symbols, and representation. Charles Baudelaire stated it best when he said that “In a deep and tenebrous unity/ Vast as the dark of night and as the light of day/ Perfumes, sounds, and colors correspond.”
Perhaps what marks Morse’s time and position as different from these historic figures is that we are more comfortable with disunity these days, we rejoice in the shifting and not in the unified. When I look at the painting A Living World, 2009, for example, I find the iconic visual impact of Gauguin and perhaps some of the smoky mystery of Odilon Redon, but there is no doubt that this is a contemporary collage of symbols and not a symbolic system, that the relationship between the symbols is one of association and not a deep belief in union.
Morse’s paintings predicate themselves on the belief that symbols, images, narratives, and ideas drawn from pretty much anywhere can gain a visual unity and a resonance on a canvas, but that the unity ultimately comes from an indeterminate source. His work will remind you of the symbolists and legions of other things from Chinese landscape, to L.A. hippie painting, to the Brit Peter Doig or even the work of Miami-based Hernan Bas. Morse, however, can be more shocked and turbulent than any of these influences and from canvas to canvas, he dazzles with the range of effects and tones he can discover. Sometimes the cacophony of shapes and color spirals into pure chaos and sometimes they are downright symphonic.
(Images: Aaron Morse, A Living World, 2009 oil, acrylic and collage on linen 41 x 56 inches and Savage World, 2007 watercolor on paper 55 3/4 x 65 1/2 inches)