This afternoon, I attended a lecture given by Quentin Morris. It was held in the Morris Gallery of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where several of Morris's six-foot, circular canvases were hung as part of his solo exhibition.
Morris, an African-American Philadelphia native, has spent the last 40 years creating monochromatic paintings and works on paper using only black. His paintings are further distinguished by his use of six-foot, circular, rough-edged canvases. Morris uses a variety of oil and water-based media to create his works. The results are varied, depending on what kind of effect Morris is after at any given time. Some his canvases will appear to have a flat, matte finish, while one next to that will feature both matte and glossy areas. Some even look as if there are other colors present due to differences in surface textures and how certain paints or inks he uses dry.
None of that was new to me, but what was different was that the walls of the gallery where painted black, as well. Not only were the walls painted black, but Morris pointed out that each wall was a diffrent shade of black. It took me a while to make the distinctions, and I was only able to see a couple of differences. This treatment of the walls was good for the presentation of the paintings. The idea was to make the exhibition a more meditative experience for the viewer. It was his attempt to get people to "slow down" and really see the works; to counteract the fast-pace of art viewing many people seem to have. It really does work. I found myself looking at these paintings much longer than I would have had they been against a light background. With the paintings presented in this way, the gallery took on the air of a chapel or other meditative space.
I'll have to return to view the exhibition again before it closes. There werer a lot of chairs in the gallery for the talk and I wasn't in the headspace to try and ignore them. After the talk, I introduced myself and had a brief conversation with Morris. One of the things I asked him about was the reception he received from people, black and white, to his work over the years. I asked that question because it seems that African-American artists who have produced work that is outside the mythical realm of what art made by blacks "should" be-largely racial and identity-based themes revolving around religion, social issues, jazz, etc...- are seen with skeptical eyes. It's as if we are trying to put one over on everyone by daring to engage thoughtfully with the history of western art. He said that his work has received a wide range of reactions from really good to outrage. I wanted to go further into this with him, but he was scheduled to have lunch with some people from the Academy, so that conversation will have to wait for another time.
I found my way to my studio later in the afternoon. It was pretty cold in there, but I chose to put on a few more layers instead of turning on the heat. It worked, but if I'd stayed longer than I did, the heat would have been turned on. I just don't want to run the bill up if I don't have to.
I did some work on one painting I've been having a difficult time with lately and still haven't gotten to a place where I felt it was heading in a good direction. I'm just trying to see what will work. I have an idea of what I want, but, so far I haven't been able to articulate it in paint yet. These new paintings are much more spontaneous and process-oriented than what I've been working on for the past couple of years. The older work was more planned out, even as I strived to achieve some sort of randomness within the rigid structures of hard-edged patterns.
I really wasn't in the mood to push on with it after four hours, so I gave it up and came home. I was extremely tired from staying up way later than I should have last night messing around with the settings on this page. I can't keep up that schedule or I'll not get anything worthwhile out of my studio time. I can't let that happen too much. I've taken enough time off during the holidays and it's time to buckle down again and get some work done. There are way too many ideas floating around in my head and I need to make more time to act on some of them.