Tangle (Red), Paintings 48 x 48

The Happy Marriage of Freedom and Formal Strength in the Paintings of Jennifer Morrison

Although she has lived and worked in London for the past two decades, Jennifer Morrison was born in Durban, South Africa, which still informs her paintings. “Durban has a sub-tropical climate with lush foliage which is still a source of inspiration,” she said in a recent artist’s statement. “ I visit about four times a year. It is a melting pot of Zulu, Indian and English South African people, making it a very colourful and interesting place in which to have grown up. A fusion of different cultures which has had a great influence on me. The Hindu temple, the shape of a Zulu basket, the red soil, the humid air, and green leaves, the purple Jacaranda trees, and elegant colonial building –– all of these things continue to influence me and my work.” And while Morrison’s work is adamantly abstract, dealing primarily with color and shape, one can discern hints of her formative environment in her oils with their dazzling colors and swirling lines and shapes seemingly derived from the organic forms of nature dancing rhythmically on canvases that are often perfectly square. Academic teachers often tell their students to avoid working in such symmetrical formats, lest their compositions become monotonous. But Morrison need not worry about such rules, for the elements of her paintings generate their own excitement through the sheer variety of visual elements she conjures up in each composition. If anything, the square shapes lend her paintings a sense of endlessness, of openness akin to that of a circle, making them appear even larger than their already considerable size. That her compositions are also most often “overall,” like those of Jackson Pollock, with the linear forms swirling and interwoven from edge to edge, as seen in her aptly named composition, “Tangle (Red),” adds further to their dynamically unlimited sense of space. Here, the lines are in mostly primary hues and swirl like serpentine neon. By contrast an even larger canvas called “Force Field” appears to allude to the dense and brilliant foliage of her native country, with explosions of green, red and yellow, interspersed with areas of pale blue that suggest looking up through lush riots of vegetal shapes to a serene expanse of sky. Sensual floral shapes are also suggested by the paler more pastel-mellow splotches of blue, green, and yellow that make up the oil and mixed media painting entitled “Fracture (Green),” where the shapes are more active than in the previous painting, yet just as vigorous in their own manner. Indeed the consistent energy level that Morrison generates transcends the specific ecriture of her strokes and the chromatic sizzle of her color combinations. At the same time, one of her largest and most exciting compositions is the canvas she calls “Falling Star,” in which some of the red and yellow shapes take on the sharp points of actual stars, while others are more softly contoured in the manner of floral forms. Here, again, however, an overall harmony is achieved by virtue of Morrison’s stylistic tendency to compose with more or less equal-sized units of color that fill the entire surface of the canvas in a nonhierarchical manner. Thus for all the exuberant freedom, energy, and sense of inner movement her compositions generate, they also possess a formal strength that is highly unusual in such gesturally vigorous work. Indeed, it is this unerring combination of expressive autonomy and intuitive formal control that puts Jennifer Morrison’s recent paintings in the forefront of the new postmodern abstraction. –– Maureen Flynn

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