Paul Morrison’s black-and-white paintings, wall-drawings and prints are devoid of colour and lack human presence, two ingredients often seen as the sensuous and emotional element in art.In spite of, or rather on account of these absences, Morrison’s landscapes have a distinct and unsettling temperament of their own. His amalgamations of repeatedly contrasting and ostensibly incompatible components put into question preconceived notions of landscape and the representation of nature. Morrison shuns representational conventions, creating images that conflate time and space. The artist has developed a very personal visual language using a grammar and syntax designed seamlessly to merge motifs drawn from a wide array of sources. Morrison constantly expands and cultivates his digital archive of images by foraging for additional pictorial motifs through source material as disparate as newspapers, cartoons and Old Master prints.
His first portfolio of screenprints, Black Dahlia, was published by Paragon in 2004. Whereas Black Dahlia took the form of ten prints in landscape format, for his second portfolio Morrison decided to use portrait instead. As with all of the artist’s work, the prints of Calathidium originate from compositions created on the computer screen. Morrison sent digital files of ten images to Brad Faine at Coriander Studios in order for them to be printed as screenprints.
Screens were made using films devised from the artist’s files and each image screenprinted at Coriander. The edition was printed from three screens, one each for the black-and-white tone and one, applied last, for the glaze. The glaze was overprinted on the blacks only. The medium of screenprint lends itself ideally to the linear character of Morrison’s compositions.
The title Calathidium is taken from a term in botany referring to the head of a flower. Flower heads dominate many of the prints of the series, sometimes covering all but the fringes of the composition as in Untitled 8, where two whirling heads of chrysanthemums all but wipe out the background scene, like brushes in an automated car wash. Elsewhere Morrison creates vistas, borrowing from traditional framing strategies such as views through windows and doorways, but instead of a window frame he uses a gap between foliage to reveal a moonlit scene of a lake lined with trees as in Untitled 9.In Untitled 10 the framing device is a keyhole through which trees beyond are glimpsed. Its firm and sharp outline gives this image a reassuring stability, undermined, however, by the placement of the viewer in the prying position of a peeping Tom.
As for the absence of a human presence, there is a strange sense in Calathidium that flowers have themselves become a dramatic agent. Alongside choosing portrait as the format for this portfolio, Morrison portrays rather than represents flowers, as if combining two rival artistic traditions, landscape and portraiture. A famous example of the presence of a flower in portraiture is Van Dyck’s Self-portrait with a sunflower.Here the artist basks in the presence of a sunflower, at once a symbol and attribute reflecting back on the artist. In Untitled 1 a passionflower strains toward the moon. A thistle is dominating the nocturnal landscape in Untitled 3, while a magnificent lily reigns supreme in Untitled 10. In images where flowers run riot, Morrison invokes a sense of discovery in the viewer by including minutiae, often buried deep in the background, such as the houses in Untitled 4 taken from a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer.