Forms of Fragmentation: Collages by Thomas Morphis
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Since 2012 Thomas Morphis has been working on a new series of artworks with the intention of incorporating the human figure for its organic and emotive qualities. Working in layers of painted watercolor paper, torn sheets of figure drawings, and images from old books, Morphis reassembles the pieces in an abstract design of columns and grids. This process has been a natural progression of his 30 year-long practice of life drawing.
This series of paintings emerged from the desire to incorporate recognizable subject matter, specifically the human figure, into my life-long practice of making abstract art. Although figurative art and abstract art are generally seen as polar opposites, I merge the two by breaking up figure drawings and creating abstract compositions from the fragments. Viewed from a distance, the paintings are solidly abstract: a simple pattern stands out within a loose grid structure of columns and rows. A more intimate, close-up view reveals parts of the body or contour lines which, drawn from life, have an organic vitality.
The reference to the human body adds another layer of artistic self-expression to the abstract forms; it also allows the viewer to bring narratives to the work from their own experience. Glimpses of faces, hands, etc. add warmth and the comfort of recognizing something familiar. The nude figure is less confrontational because it is fractured into smaller pieces, yet it is there, whether consciously recognized or not.
I also strive to create images that are at the same time both simple and complex. At first glance each painting presents a simple, clear abstract composition of stability and balance. Within each painting, however, is a complex variety of colors, textures and figurative elements. And while all the paintings in this series share the simple concept of the grid structure, there is endless variation in the types of patterns that can emerge.
Abstraction vs. representation, explicit vs. obscured, simplicity vs. complexity. The answer to these apparent polarities is positive and optimistic: “Yes, all of the above.”
First I paint sheets of paper with multiple layers of watercolor washes to develop a rich color and texture. Onto these I draw human figures from live models in a variety of media, including graphite, charcoal, colored pencil, and china marker. From a large stock of these painted/drawn sheets of paper, I choose specific ones for their colors, tear them into strips and glue them onto a wood panel in a grid pattern. Finally, to protect the watercolor and drawing materials, I coat the finished painting with a matte finish.