Artist Rebecca Morris makes strange-looking things. Picture a mismatched assemblage of random shapes and crimson stains, green dots and black squares framed within a viscous bead of silvery sparkles, and you get the idea. Her paintings are abstract, tough to get your head around, and frankly, don’t always look very good. Like a succulent slice of gorgonzola at room temperature, the seven large-scale works in “#29,” her third solo show at Corbett vs. Dempsey, are a challenge to the palette.
But that’s the point.
For the past decade, Morris’ oeuvre, with few exceptions, is one that foregrounds difference and discontinuity. A painting such as the scintillating gray-violet quasi-landscape “Untitled (#09-20),” isn’t about beauty in any conventional sense. It’s about probing the outer reaches of painting itself. By tugging at the formal parameters of visual unity through juxtaposition, incongruity and the “wrong moves,” the work’s lavender trails and pink ameboid shapes pose the question: “How do you make sense of me?”
Even a seasoned viewer standing before the clay-red stripes that compartmentalize “Untitled (#02-21)” would be hard pressed to discern a clear hierarchy of form, let alone a narrative or focal point. These paintings are, in effect, a series of camouflage cutouts that share only the geographic proximity of the canvas and their maker’s touch. It’s up to the viewer to fill in the blanks.
There’s an entire branch of psychology devoted to investigating our mind’s propensity to organize disparate visual elements into coherent wholes and Morris’ best works probably escaped from the same lab. By embracing the atomization of thematic and stylistic unity, her works embody these fractured conditions as we find them reflected in contemporary culture, even if they’re not specifically commenting on them. Like that first taste of the unfamiliar on an expectant tongue, these are paintings that you have to work for. But if you do, you will earn your keep. (Alan Pocaro)
“Rebecca Morris #29” is on view through April 23 at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2156 West Fulton.