Rebecca Morris likes to compartmentalize. Her paintings, smartly installed at Mary Boone’s Fifth Avenue location through February 25, feature symmetrically placed geometric shapes, sometimes collaged onto the surfaces of the large-scale canvases. Each of the shapes, large squares or circles, is divided into numerous smaller shapes that have been casually filled with improvised patterns, line, and brushwork. Morris’s paintings at first seem aligned with work by contemporary painters like, say, Trudy Benson, Lauren Silva, or Leah Guadagnoli, who use kitschy elements from ’80s graphics–stepped rules, drop shadows, squiggles, pastel palettes. But rather than evoking the gormless charm of this earlier era, Morris’s abstractions are confrontational and challenging.
Like Kazimir Malevich and the Suprematists, Morris is interested in non-objective imagery. Often working in a square format (neither portrait or landscape), she limits her images to geometric shapes and flat colors in order to eliminate overt references to objects and illusions of three-dimensional space. They hover on the under-worked surface, and any illusion of depth is fashioned through the layering of abstract elements. Many of the forms are created with washy paint and pale colors that evoke a sense of ennui. In her most recent painting, Morris contrasts a thin, dilute, watercolor-like field of silver paint with thick skeins of the same metallic pigment squeezed in a grid format directly out of the tube.
Fittingly, none of the canvases have meaningful names or explanations. Each is left untitled and Morris assigns a number for identification purposes. At the opening reception she told me she prefers the flatness, lack of reference, and ambiguity of numbers. Thus, the title of the show is also a number–#24–which is a reference not to the number of hours in the day as I originally had thought, but to the number of solo shows Morris has had since she began painting.
The press release suggests that Morris has an “appreciation for unconventional beauty,” but I think that might be a little off. Morris is actually embracing a kind of willful homeliness, which for me is far more intriguing than updated notions of beauty. I guarantee the work, which features thin washes of color, crudely painted patterns, and notation-like imagery, will get under your skin. Something I often wonder about is whether the unbeautiful can be loved, and what might this mean for a painting. Here Morris, with great commitment, tilts towards positive, salutary answers.
“Rebecca Morris: #24,” curated by Piper Marshall. Mary Boone, Midtown, New York, NY. Through February 25, 2017.