10 February – 28 March 2015
I experience and see the paintings in the same manner: visceral, after-images, interfaces sometimes representing something that is repulsive, overwhelming; a system that is larger than you, with moments of inherent complicitness, and yet distance or failure built in.
For these concurrent exhibitions, which included new paintings at White Cube and film and works on paper at Galeria Fortes Vilaça, the artist continues to focus on Brazil and its complex, multi-layered cities Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo at key moments in their history.
Morris’ work examines the culture and ideology of late capitalism as it effects architecture, urban planning and social bureaucracy, engaging with what writer Bettina Funcke has identified as ‘the hyper-intensity of our time’.* She describes Morris’ paintings and filmmaking, parallel activities within her practice, as a way of investigating, tracing and playing with ‘urban, social and bureaucratic typologies’.
In Morris' new series of paintings she focuses on the city of São Paulo, drawing her inspiration from a wide range of sources such as the city’s urban typology, its modernist buildings, iconic landmarks and unique geographical landscape. Oscar Niemeyer’s architecture, and his influence on Brazil’s visual vocabulary as a whole, as well as the work of Osvaldo Arthur Bratke, Roberto Burle Marx and Lina Bo Bardi, are key starting points, alongside more quotidian references of tropical fruit, street signs and Bossa Nova album covers.
In these abstract paintings, which are all household gloss on canvas, Morris employs doubling, symmetry and compression to build tension within her compositions, using an evocative palette of violet, orange, canary yellow, azure blue and black in forms that repeat, splinter and fall apart. Like her films, the paintings emerge from an amalgamation of diverse influences and have a sense of energy and restless movement, remaining unfixed entities that rely on notions of language, fluidity and play. Circular shapes seem to proliferate, as if open-ended reflections on urban density either contained within horizontal bands of colour or fragmented and bisected, recalling the patterning of lunar charts. In some works, such as Fura-Fila [São Paulo] (2014), Morris refers to specific aspects of the city – in this case, the experimental and controversial monorail, that for many years remained an unfinished, skeletal presence within the city.
Morris’ approach to producing work is systematic yet always open, unresolved, iconic and dynamic. The film Rio (2012) was on display at Galeria Fortes Vilaça, which retains the same sense of detachment and openness in its surface projections depicting the multifarious layers of this most contradictory of cities, from its highly orchestrated and eroticised surface image to the infinite realities of its vast urban sprawl. The camera seems to wander, flaneur-like, through Rio’s beaches, fruit stands, hospitals, iconic modernist architecture, football stadiums, factories and favelas, capturing scenes such as the office of the late Oscar Niemeyer, the office of the Mayor of Rio, the legendary ‘City of God’ neighbourhood, as well as the inside of the Brahma beer factory. Rio presents a matrix, reflecting on architecture, spectacle, industry, history and the way these forces engineer social interaction and form Brazil's outward identity to the rest of the world. Alternating between the micro and macro, the landscape and the detail, day and night, it creates a hallucinatory, parallel visual space that explores the psychology of this city and traces how this identity is embedded into its colourful visual surfaces.
*Bettina Funcke, ‘Shift to Liquid’ in Sarah Morris Bye Bye Brazil, London: White Cube, 2013