Rebecca Morris: On Blood and Abstraction

Here we have presented, in a perfect circle, as if in a petri dish or memorial china plate or a porthole—which, by the way, is the vanguard of windows, the aperture we gaze at when we want to be kept safely, securely, hermetically safe from whatever is on the other end of the thin pane we slick with the heat of our faces—the kind of pleasing gridded surface, so straight!, so soothing!, so perfectly correct and uniform!, bone white squares cut by aurelian lines ostensibly lineal but in actually imperfect, bulging a bit, a bit sloppy, like a military garrison on parade—so close to perfect, but still (for now) human!—or the grout lines in your bathroom … yes!, it's a bathroom floor, encircled in the petri dish, viewed through the porthole, bathroom tiles gridded out with gold, surrounded by marble (of course!), perfect save a pox, the red of dried blood—it's the brightest color in the whole room, really, this dried-deoxygenated-but-still-too-fresh blood, each splock with its own idiosyncratic hair style, pili radiating as is from the weakest sun, clumping into constellations, gentle parabolic forms like arched eyebrows, carrying in them a sense of ad-hoc exigency, the kinetic beautiful violence requisite for their application demonstrated in their forms, an abstract take on a passage from a Bret Easton Ellis novel—The bathroom reeks of bleach and disinfectant and the floor is wet and gleaming even though the maid hasn't started cleaning in here yet; Glamorama, pg. 256—a form of silent violence, an echo of a moment captured in all of its chaos atop a bone white grid, gleaming with gold, surrounded by marble, a porthole into God's own bathroom…- B. David Zarley, Chicago Contributor

Rebecca Morris | Untitled (#01-16), 2016. Oil and spray paint on canvas, 68 x 69 inches. Photo courtesy of the artist and Corbett vs Dempsey, Chicago

And the pox is the most perfect element in Rebecca Morris' eponymous Corbett vs Dempsey exhibition, a show obsessed with elements and forms, with materials and processes and outcomes—that's paraphrasing from the gallery copy—and other Inside Baseball aesthetic concerns, an obsession played out, and played with, a level of skill and understanding both as impressive as it is alienating. To look at her works—even Glamorama pg. 256, which is in reality an untitled work in a coterie of anonymous images—is to both appreciate the sheer beauty of her abstraction and to feel, in some crucial, acute way, left out of her investigation.

The interrogations of form, medium, and process on display are something in the vein of the McLuhan style medium/message sort that's been de rigueur for excellent artists lately. Elements of Morris' watercolor on paper works are adopted here to canvas, via thinned out oils, providing the abstraction with a kind of softness of color and abundance of texture that stands in stark contrast to it's cold and perfect application. Shifting scale and medium, using a variety of techniques, she makes each canvas a formalist study, a scientific approach, as Chris Miller's excellent Newcity review notes, belayed by the painting's lack of names (the only ones with any kind of definite demarcation use numbers), regular inclusion of portholes and grids, and abundance of non-organic forms; harsh lines for soft cultures.

Rebecca Morris | Untitled (#11-16), 2016. Oil on canvas, 90 x 80 inches. Photo courtesy of the artist and Corbett vs Dempsey, Chicago

What cultures, however! They seem to have been carved from stone or bloomed from agar plates, with colors close to nature; contained within her lines are evocations of forest marble, wobbegong flesh and dalmatian hides, bathroom tile, bone marrow, the surface of a cartoon moon, that epoxy garage floor coating with the colloidal color shards, violently whipped ink on lilac stationary—killed writing thank you notes!—and Bathing Ape chromatic camouflage, blue-green chromosome models, algae, and the roiling surfaces of unknown gas giants; it is a dizzying array, look-at-me formalism equal parts surgeon and aesthete. Set within frames (within frames, within frames) that resemble tectonic plates or a jigsaw taken to a salesman's sampler, each piece encompasses a sterile world of color and application, the tensions of which are only half-understood by those without the full breadth and scope behind their process, which leads the pleasure of observing them—and, again, they are quite pleasurable to observe!— an uncanny sensation of hollowness akin to friendships made over cocaine-lined mirrors or Pyrrhic Victory.

Rebecca Morris | Untitled (#03-16), 2016. Oil and spray paint on canvas, 52 x 52 inches. Photo courtesy of the artist and Corbett vs Dempsey, Chicago

What is missing is something human, something wrong; the very thing which makes Morris' paintings so beautiful is what makes them dissociative, up there on the wall distinctly separate from you down there on the floor. Only in the blood-splattered bathroom tile is the human element noticeable, an element atavistic, immortal, and catholic, beautiful violence captured in absentia and the roughly hewed entrée into Morris' otherwise pristine world.

Rebecca Morris | Untitled (#12-16), 2016. Oil on canvas, 90 x 80 inches. Photo courtesy of the artist and Corbett vs Dempsey, Chicago


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