press release

The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami will present a retrospective of the work of painter Malcolm Morley from January 21 through April 16, 2006. Featuring over 30 works from the 1960s to the present, Malcolm Morley: The Art of Painting is Morley’s first museum survey in the United States since 1984. The exhibition focuses on Morley’s connection with the art of the past and his concentration on the art of painting. The title of the exhibition is derived from the title of one of his recent works.

The exhibition is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami and is curated by MOCA Director Bonnie Clearwater.

Born in London in 1931, and a resident of the United States since 1958, Morley paints in a manner that defies easy categorization. Although often described as a photorealist, as photographic sources provide him with much of the subject matter for his work, Morley defines his purpose as a preoccupation with the act of painting and the sensation of transforming closely observed images to canvas.

Morley achieved wide spread recognition in the 1960s for his photo-based painting. Works such as SS Amsterdam in front of Rotterdam, 1966, is based on an image from a promotional reproduction of a photograph. He developed the technique of placing a grid over the original image, then reproducing it one small square at a time, turning the canvas upside down and sideways so that the abstract shape and color tonality of each part is addressed.

Morley’s paintings took a different direction in the 1970s when he began to emphasize the physicality of painting. Rough brushstrokes and distorted forms emphasized a marked deviation from his finely executed paintings of the 1960s. In the late 1970s and early 80s, Morley turned to still-life, arranging objects such as toy trains, planes, Indians and cowboys into tableaux. Although he worked from actual objects instead of photographs, he still used a grid to transfer the image – in this case a three-dimensional framed grid positioned between him and the still-life as he worked.

In the 1980s, Morley used his watercolor paintings as the source for his ambitious canvases. These oil paintings seem to explode with the expressionistic splatter associated with action painting. When he transposed the watercolor paintings onto his canvas, he did not dilute his oil paints to the consistency of a stain; rather, he used full-bodied, viscous pigments to create an illusion of transparent watercolor. Arranging a montage based on the watercolor images became an effective process to compose his paintings in the 1980s, thereby creating invented landscapes.

Many of Morley’s paintings of the 1990s were based on tableaux he created with model planes, boats, and lighthouses. These recalled the childhood pleasure of building model boats and planes and the trauma he experienced at age 13 during the London Blitz of World War II when one of his treasured toy boats was destroyed along with part of the family’s home.

In 2000 – 2001, Morley used flat, uncut sheets of illustrated World War I and II fighter plane models as his subjects for such works as Rat Tat Tat, 2001. The bold colors, thick outlines, diagonals and bold typeface gave these cards a Russian constructivist design Morley found appealing. The oversized, abstract organization of the image with its flags and symbols brings to mind work by some of the Pop Art masters, while the three vertical zones are reminiscent of a medieval altar triptych. The “picture plane” paintings are identified with the flat plane of the picture’s surface.

Recently, Morley made a return to his superrealist paintings of athletes and racecar crashes. The Death of Dale Earnhardt, 2003, based on an Associated Press color photograph, portrays the crash that claimed the life of a modern-day popular figure. Morley’s orderly focused technique yields a dynamic image of contact and speed from the worlds of sports and chaos, which is broken down into mosaics of small beautifully abstract color and form.

Bonnie Clearwater notes, “Morley did not paint his recent sports paintings out of the love of these games. The specific subject was incidental to him. Rather, he was seeking to create a contemporary American mythology using modern sports heroes.”

A fully illustrated catalogue with featuring an essay by Bonnie Clearwater accompanies the exhibition.


Malcolm Morley - Major Retrospective