Monday, 30 August 2010
It’s basically practical. I’ve always been called Alex, though my actual first name is Eugene, but there’s also an American artist called Alex Morrison. That was confusing online, and when I got asked for information about his forthcoming show I decided to do something about it!
Where did you grow up?
In Birmingham in the eighties and nineties. Then I did my degree in London, so I’m very much urban. Birmingham was a brilliant place for what were then the sub-cultures of skateboarding and alternative music. That’s reflected fairly directly in my earlier work, and especially in the videos. My older brother, John, was a bass player in the band Hefner for some years and now collaborates with me by providing the sound tracks to my videos.
How did you come to be an artist rather than a musician?
Music has always been really important to me and I was in a few bands, but was pretty crap. So I don’t think there ever was a point where I was going to be a musician rather than an artist - I left the music to my brother. As a kid I was constantly inventing games and worlds for myself by drawing, and I was always encouraged in that by my parents.
The pastel colours and human-like characters of your videos and previous paintings don’t feature in this new show. Why is that?
In part it was a conscious decision to change my approach and palette, but without question the enormity of losing my Dad in 2009, which was a strange and affecting experience, was bound to have an impact on the work.
So your father’s death reinforced changes which were already occurring?
Yes, I already wanted to make the shift from one kind of alternate reality to another with a different feel to it – more solid, or maybe the same world but with the lights turned off: with dark things in dark spaces rather than light things in light spaces. Perhaps a world in an in-between state, like something evolving. And it feels nice to show something that’s the start of something – I didn’t want a show that felt like the end of something I was exhausting.
And the change in colours?
That was a real decision to do the opposite of paintings which were getting lighter and lighter. I wanted a conscious shift. I wanted a stronger palette with a dated feel but which still felt modern – parallel to the way fashions come around again.
The new paintings look rather like abstractions. Are they?
No. As well as being form, colour and shape buzzing against each other, I want them to be readable as things. That – as well as my love of sci-fi films like ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, may also lie behind the presence of gateways and portals. I wouldn’t want to get rid of all those things I am interested in: I don’t feel I could get up in the morning just to work on pure colour theory or geometry. I want to take that stuff and then try to do something with it. We have the liberty nowadays to appropriate things and then look to do something with them – but you do need to do something to justify it.
Though there is one face in view?
Yes, ‘Self Portrait as the Skull of an Apeman’ is the oldest painting in this show and something of a link to earlier work. Despite references to the ‘technological sublime’ and an interest in new technology in relation to painting I still want the paintings to be expressive, physical and sort of primitive. So ‘Self Portrait’ relates to that more bluntly in a symbolic way. However by depopulating the spaces and making them less specific I have allowed myself to be freer with the exploration of painting processes.
So the science fiction could stand in for the creative process?
Yes, definitely. You’re never settled with your own paintings – you can’t have that experience of finality which you have with other people’s work. One painting is always a step in moving on towards the future paintings. You’re always looking to move on. But things also tend to be cyclical and old ideas come back up again in new forms.
Are you deliberately referencing abstract artists?
Yes, I like playing games with art history and its genres. Here I’m absorbing a different kind of painting history, which has always interested me but I haven’t directly used before. I wanted to use it to create a new language, recognizing it’s impossible to make a painting that doesn’t refer to other paintings. I like the kind of time travel aspect of referencing Malevich, Rothko and Reinhardt while still keeping the viewer in the present.
How do the paintings come about?
I get there through the process of painting and repainting on a small scale, plus photographing them and then messing around with them on Photoshop to try different things. It’s a matter of letting the thoughts and influences float in and out without crowbarring them too much, and then seeing what comes about.
Although you haven’t made videos for this show, the paintings also have the feel of video games…
That is a massively integral part of my aesthetic. I’m aesthetically interested in the clunky feel of early computer games like Pong, which came about from their limitations – having to use flat planes, restricted colours and vector graphics to show space. But then if I made video which looked like these paintings it would look just like old computer games. I didn’t want that, and I wanted to assert that painting has always been my core concern.
There are also what look like blank screens?
Yes, there may be a connection there. The screens are important for how they look out at you and you look into it them.
What’s the hovering motif about?
When my Dad died I felt like someone had literally lifted me and it was a few days before I felt I had my feet back on the ground. I think that led to the idea of painting things which were being affected by some force or other, or being held in a state of balance from which they might be knocked off. A sense of weightiness and solidity contrasted with lightness, but also with a science fiction or magical feel, together with the sense that painting can do whatever it likes.
Are the paintings set in any particular time?
Well hopefully the past, present and future! The past projected into the future or the other way around. Definitely not just ‘now’.