Tuesday, 28 January 2014

'Seeing The M6 In A New Light...'

A review of ‘Black Highway’ by Jenny Chamberlain has been doing the rounds in the region’s local press, and has now featured in the Birmingham Mail, Coventry Telegraph, and The Metro, the free newspaper to be found on all the local buses. I did provide a link to it in my last post, but these links are often short-lived, so I thought I’d paste it onto the blog too. Although it’s a very positive review, I don’t think it’s that well-written, but I do think the reporter obviously visited the show from the descriptions of certain artworks. It’s great, and very valuable, to get such far-reaching publicity. (It’s sort of funny but the image used however, is a painting (‘Weird Nightmare’) that is not now in the exhibition, as I recently sold it. It must have been sent from the gallery from my original application. I’ll add a different one for this post). 
Seeing The M6 in a new light

See'Artist Shaun Morris has been inspired by the Midland's motorway network

Most of us see motorways as a necessary evil, and only see them from above.But one artist has gone below to paint them as glorious landscapes.

Shaun Morris’s exhibition, Black Highway, at Nuneaton’s Museum and Art Gallery, is made up of oil paintings and pastels done in the past two years.

Shaun is from West Bromwich, and now works in Birmingham as an artist and teacher, and despite also travelling to Scandinavia, he found it was the landscape under the M5 and M6 near his birthplace which inspired all these works, mostly depicted in the unnatural night lights of the motorway.

There are different variations on a theme. Sleep looks through concrete pillars to show the lit motorway and part of a pylon. Journey’s End is an interesting mix of orangeness, the sky, pylons, grass and the overwhelming darkness of the underneath of the looming motorway structure.

Drift shows industrial buildings reflected in water and Someplace is a pastel showing trees and pillars entwined next to some water. A Minor Place shows the greenery under the motorways and Midlands Landscape depicts a canal making its journey through the newer roads. The Wind and the Trees shows the distant sun in the sky looking through the orange artificial lights and black foliage silhouetted.

There’s no sign of life in these works, apart from in Silence 3, where a solitary animal, a donkey or horse with its head down, grazes unconcerned in a field where the pylons and motorway columns loom above, and another work where a vehicle can be seen on the road, implying life.

The depiction of the artificial light, the darkness and the different elements which make up this unseen landscape is very strongly presented.

Shaun Morris has exhibited many times before, including portraits.

The works in this exhibition were made with the support of a grant from Arts Council England, which seems to be money well spent on creating confident and powerful works well worth seeing'.
Not too bad, eh? Especially the line about Arts Council money being well spent! You don't hear that all too often..

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Black Highway

This is the poem I wrote for the 'Black Highway' pamphlet...

Branches and leaves slowly disappear
Only to return
In concrete and steel

I stand beneath the motorway again
The forlorn noise of this place where I was born
six floors up
in the long demolished tower block
not five minutes from here

I think about the big, black shapes
formless and terrifying
the motorway at night, 
I have passed into and through those spaces
all my life

I am a painter now.
The motorway incites different conjured feelings in me
The powerful and exciting drag
Large brushes in wet paint on canvas
The possibilities for new expression
in this work I have chosen. 

In the day I make drawings
hidden from view under flake white skies. 
I set up my easel and paint quickly
against the cold surface
my only witnesses are curious horses that graze
in swampy fields of electric pylons
dilapidated shelters of corrugated metal, oil drums and wire.

I return at night to make drawings from the car
I walk the lanes beneath the motorway
this feels crazy and dangerous
I return with a friend and a camera
and leave with views seen through a lens
that mingle and mix with
my memories that I fail to confide
in the breath of the cold air

In the studio
I excavate images out of charcoal surfaces
with blackened fingers and nails
In oil I lay in big shapes with big brushes
Oily rags collect on the black floor

My hands
that I can never really clean
are now aged, lined and warped
the years of dirty turpentine and sharp staples
Endless canvas stretched over endless wood

There is agitation and tension
In the edges of shapes that meet and collide
But there is a soothing recognition
of the familiar view
and remembrances that tell me
I am here again.

A lifetime of experiences
some numb and shrouded,
weird nightmares and vivid silences
They occupy my studio and fix themselves
in the oil paint and linseed oil and the canvas

The studio door finally opens
He steps into the moonlight
and disappears with a silent shudder
Into the garden

‘Fare thee well, my old friend, fare thee well’ 

Monday, 20 January 2014

'Black Highway'...

I’ve been feeling very lost since I made my last painting, ‘Drift’, and installed my exhibition at Nuneaton. I’m usually ahead of myself, always thinking of the next painting, but recently I’ve been left thinking, ‘well, what is the next painting?’…It’s not like me at all.

I had a small private view for ‘Black Highway’ on Saturday afternoon, which turned out to be a nice event thanks to the friends and family that made it along. I find it increasingly difficult to attract people along to any private views I have, but I do have a little hardcore of about half a dozen friends that always thankfully make the effort. These gatherings around my paintings seem to turn into really nice occasions where these great people, who don’t meet very often, come together for an hour or so and catch up with each other. It's nice to think my paintings can serve such a function.
The response to my work has generally been very positive from friends and others, who have left comments in the visitor’s book. I managed to sell two small pieces on Saturday (a small painting and a pastel), and was very surprised at the strong reaction the largest painting, ‘The Gaze’ (above) seemed to generate, with people really enjoying the more overtly abstract qualities of it, as well as the colour, in particular the green square. The discussions around this piece helped me begin to focus again. And it was a surprise, as I felt that these abstract qualities might have been the most difficult for people. It has encouraged me to think more about this. 
I’ve also managed to get together another accompanying pamphlet for the exhibition, which was designed and created by my good friend, illustrator Chris Cowdrill, which you can view online here:

 or buy  at the exhibition. Chris as ever, has done a very sensitive and sympathetic job. It’s much sparser than the last one for ‘Stolen Car’ in February, with the only writing a poem that I have written. This is something new for me, and took shape after a failed attempt to originally write a short essay for the publication. The poem seemed a better form to boil my ideas down to their essence, which is very much how I think about painting. I’m grateful to friend, artist Andrew Smith for reassuring me it wasn’t too embarrassing to print.  I’ll share it in another post.

This is another Indigo Octagon publication, of which there are now three. I think it would be good to do a few more of these in some way as a group and link up with some sort of fanzine fair at some point. 
And today I found out that I also managed to get a review in the Birmingham Mail online. It’s pretty good too, especially the bit about my exhibition/paintings being money well spent for the Arts Council! Here’s a link:

Thanks to those who made it along on Saturday. Your support and interest is very much appreciated.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

'Black Highway'

‘I’m really struck by how quiet they all are, and yet you are aware that it would be so noisy above from the motorway. There is a real sense of them being in-between spaces…’ This is the useful comment made by my wife, Diane, as we visited ‘Black Highway’ yesterday morning, as it opened its doors to the public for the first time. 
‘Why is that painting so baggy after what I told them to do? It looks terrible! There are too many pieces. The labels are too big? Why has that piece got the same title as that piece? What are those big cardboard labels sticking out of the back of the frames? Why is there no lighting on that painting? It’s too dark. What is that ‘toilets’ sign doing sat next to the painting? Those two are hung too close together…I wouldn’t have put the smaller one underneath the larger piece like that. I should have supervised it myself! I’m a control freak…I can’t get any sense of what it looks like. What does it say to anybody?’ These were some of the less useful comments swimming around my head as I looked around. Sometimes it’s a drag being the artist.

Hopefully, as more visitors respond in the next few weeks I’ll get a better sense of it all. Hopefully…

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

'Black Highway'

‘Black Highway’, my latest exhibition of paintings and drawings opens at Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery on Saturday. After a rather fraught day delivering the work on Monday (loading the van up with big canvasses in howling wind bubble wrap flying down the street, painting still wet, van not big enough, needing then to make two journeys, then getting lost to Nuneaton! (terrible at directions!) and heading to Coventry, display walls not the same as gallery plan I was given so then having to re-plan, mirror-plating 33 pieces until the gallery closes at five), I’m now feeling like a huge weight has lifted from my shoulders. I’m not sure what I’ve achieved, but I was very pleased with how the paintings looked in the gallery space. I think it’s the best I’ve seen the earlier motorway paintings look. After laying everything out, the gallery has been hanging them over the last two days. I see the exhibition for the first time on the same day as everyone else, when I go along this Saturday when it opens.

At the top of the post is the rather cool flyer my talented friend, Chris Cowdrill, created for the exhibition. He’s currently working on an accompanying ‘catalogue’ that will be available at the exhibition too. Following is an introduction I’ve written for the exhibition: 

Black Highway
Recent Paintings by Shaun Morris

‘We arrived where we started and know it for the first time’
                                                                                                                TS Eliot

This exhibition represents paintings made over the last two years with the support of a research and development grant from Arts Council England. These are my first serious attempts, after many false starts and blind alleys, to explore landscape painting following many years of painting portraits and the figure. Despite the obvious absence of any figures in the paintings I hope that the human presence is even more felt than before, but this time it exists in you, the viewer, who finds yourself transported to the painted places before you. 
My original intention was to explore the so-called ‘edges’ of the landscape; the nowhere zones between city and countryside; the overlooked and hidden. I planned to work on location in many places in the Midlands; and even took myself to Scandinavia, to Norway and Denmark, to fulfill an ambition to make work overseas. Ironically all the paintings on display in this exhibition were made from a landscape I have known all my life, just five minutes from where I was born and grew up. It is the landscape underneath the M5 and M6 motorways that take you right over West Bromwich, and the canals and towpaths that weave below, precariously traversed at night. 
As a consequence of exploring these places I have known, and yet not known, all my life, the paintings found themselves containing many personal memories and feelings. The more recent paintings of the canal reflections also found themselves representing a more political dimension. This was provoked by the recent death of Margaret Thatcher, and the barely healed wounds it seemed to expose in the community I grew up in.  The Black Country has never recovered from the devastating effects her policies had on the industrial landscape and lives of the people there.  When I travel through it now, there is a sense of an abandoned, or ruined and forgotten, landscape, which possesses its own bleak beauty. 

If there is one lesson I have learned in the last two years, it is that you never have to look far for inspiration. It is all there to be found in your own backyard.

I’d like to thank the following people for their advice, support and generosity over the last two years:

Chris Cowdrill, Andrew Smith, Jamie and Mette Wallace-Christiansen, Danny Bird, Laura Gale, Angela Swan, Marian Edwards, Hugh Marwood, Rob Williams, Ben Allchurch, Andrew Tift, and especially my wife, Diane. Oh, and Bruce of course….

Shaun Morris, January 2014

Hope you can make it along…

Thursday, 2 January 2014

....Standing Here

‘We arrived where we started...

 'Drift' oil on canvas, 100 x 150cms, 2013-2014

and know it for the first time’
                                                            TS Eliot
Here are some of my recent paintings in the studio waiting to be wrapped up and taken to Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery on Monday. Things seem to have taken a really different shape in recent months. I can’t wait to see things installed in the gallery next week.