NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale presents a retrospective exhibition of work by Malcolm Morley

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NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale presents a retrospective exhibition of work by Malcolm Morley
Installation view.



FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA.- “Malcolm Morley: Shipwreck”, a retrospective of this collection is now on display at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale through April in collaboration with Hall Art Foundation. 

The exhibition focuses on the artist’s earliest superrealist paintings which draw inspiration from his childhood. Ranging from ocean liners in the 1960s to his imaginative portraits of complex compositions of battles and other catastrophes, these works are generally based on still-lifes he arranged of toy model boats and planes.

Morley defines his purpose as a preoccupation with the act of painting and the sensation of transforming closely observed images to canvas. His intention was never to paint in a realistic manner that matched the camera's mechanical view, rather the found photographic image solved the problem of what to paint. After solving this, he dedicated the rest of his career to exploring how to paint his chosen subject concentrating on the process of mixing color, making paint at a certain velocity and density and ensuring it's properly placed on the canvas

As a child, Malcolm Morley enjoyed making model boats and planes from balsa wood and was only 13 when his treasured battleship HMS Nelson was destroyed in a German bombing raid that demolished part of his family home during World War II. This model, its perfection forever forestalled, was the underlying inspiration for his maritime scenes. 

According to an interview with The Guardian, Morley went to naval school but was soon sent to prison for petty theft, which hindered his chances of going down that career route. While in prison, he read about the famous Vincent van Gogh in the novel Lust of Life, which piqued his interest in becoming an artist. He began painting while in prison. After being let out early, Morley’s parole officer helped get him into Camberwell College of Arts in London, where he stayed for a year before transferring to the Royal College of Art. In 1957, Morley decided to move to America. Working his way into the New York Art scene, Morley worked on abstract expressionism pieces. Eventually, this process led him to the creation of highly-detailed renderings of photographs with paint that he called superrealism. Morley consistently employed images of cruise liners, tugs, airplanes and lighthouses. In the same interview with The Guardian, Morley stated, "I realized that all those ships I'd done had to do with me trying to paint that battleship I never finished." 

The process Morely devised was the traditional painting technique that involved dividing the original image into a grid, and drawing a corresponding enlarged grid on the canvas. Morley did not see the total picture while he worked, nor did he sketch the composition on the canvas. Rather, he cut the original photo up into separate squares, which he transposed one by one on the painting – the grid squares he used were so minuscule that he needed a magnifying glass to see as he painted.

Brushstrokes, no matter how fine, have always been essential to Morley. The painted surfaces of early oceanliner paintings, such as Cristoforo Colombo are especially fine. After completing each square he would sweep his brush over the borders to soften the transition to the adjoining squares. Consequently, his paintings have no traditional figure-ground relationship; they are as flat as a photograph or the canvas itself. 

Malcolm Morley was the first to ever win the Turner Prize in 1984, following an exhibition put on by a long-term supporter, Nicholas Serota. This award recognized his meticulous photorealist paintings, a movement that marked the beginning of the “superrealist” process in the art community. 

Although his work has been described in relation to the 1960s art movement of photo-realism due to his reliance on photographic sources, Morley defines his purpose as a preoccupation with the act of painting and the sensation of transforming closely observed images to canvas. His intention was never to paint in a realistic manner that matched the camera's mechanical view, rather the found photographic image solved the problem of what to paint. After solving this, he dedicated the rest of his career to exploring how to paint his chosen subject concentrating on the process of mixing color, making paint at a certain velocity and density and ensuring it's properly placed on the canvas.










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