A Radiant Retrospective:
Jim Morphesis at Garboushian Gallery
By Genie Davis
Through February 14th
Now through February 14th, the Garboushian Gallery is offering a four-decade retrospective of Jim Morphesis’ art in Selected Works 1974 – 2016. The show’s wide range encompasses far more than the artist’s significance as a neo-expressionist. The gallery’s insightful exhibition reveals a storied artistic career that includes varied mediums and styles. From precisely detailed work to broad, muscular abstract strokes, what each work has in common is an essential and compelling power.
In this encompassing show, the artist’s works are essentially a fascinating series of chapters in a book writ large about humanity, passion, and the transitory nature of life itself. The inspiration of Morphesis’ Greek Orthodox heritage and his childhood memories of crucifixion imagery in his grandmother’s church can be clearly traced in his intensely physical nude torsos, skulls, and more defined Biblical and mythologic figures.
The emotional and visual linchpin of this wide body of work is a sense of both darkness and wonder, a deep and disquieting gaze at the human condition. The vulnerable, the elegaic, the tragic, the transcendent – all a part of Morphesis’ oeuvre regardless of technique.
His works are dreamlike, from images of skulls to bodies, from flesh to flower. His skulls are raw and a little frightening, imperfectly formed, almost seeping from abstract backgrounds of black, white, brown and grey. One of his most recent compositions, “Head,” acrylic, ink, charcoal, and pastel on paper, seems to be emerging from another realm. A different, “Untitled (Head),” oil, enamel, charcoal and collage on distressed wood panel, is thickly layered, and appears to be a vision of solid bone, with the focus here on a lighter palette of white and pink, with a deep black void riveting the eye to the work’s center.
That artist’s torso paintings are each uniquely individual, some with sinewy arms primarily unseen, evoke an intense, Christ-like image, the pink flesh so visceral it appears raw and touchable. A 2016 work, “Two Figures Within a Landscape” is all blacks and whites. The acrylic, ink, charcoal, and pastel work on paper depicts a man and woman side by side, relaxed in aspect, arms behind their heads, heads mostly obscured by what could be a long view of dark mountains.
The artist’s abstracts feature thick, rich surfaces, riven with light, deep enough to visually dive within. Some works are imbued with metallic pigments, heavily textured and layered with thick paint on raw surfaces. “Prime Cuts (For Jack),” is a work that combines oil, enamel, gouache, charcoal, pastel, joint compound and paper collage, creating a physically layered work that is also layered in terms of its visualization, which resembles, in part strange buildings, raw flesh, a mysterious creature. Small figurative sections – on the upper right, a face, on the lower left a sketch of a flower – add to the mystery.
Morphesis’ tightly cropped images of roses on wooden panels blaze with orange and red fire, intense, voluptuous, so sensual they seem to be exuding the fragrance of color. The work shown here reveals a rose as a floral fireball, searing with the intensity and transitory nature of passion and of life itself.
The artist’s most recent drawings and paintings emphasize the human body and our mortality, but all of Morphesis’ intensely spiritual works touch on these subjects. Whether painting roses whose petals are ripe, fleshy, and fecund, or skulls that have been stripped of these characteristics, picked bare by death we are both transitory and profound flesh and bone.
From the representational to the abstract, these works dance on the knife edge between life and death; they are vivid and visceral, as transitory as a rose’s beauty or human flesh.
The Garboushian Gallery is located at 427 N Camden Drive in Beverly Hills.