Saturday, 16 February 2013

Reflections On 'Stolen Car'

Shaun Morris' Stolen Car' Exhibition has just entered its second week at Rugby Art Gallery & Museum.  I'd encourage you to take a look while it's still on display, if you can get there.  I went over myself with my friend Dave for Shaun's Private View last week.  I'd seen some of these motorway paintings before but it was great to view them together as a set and to catch up with Shaun and the other Indigo Octagon guys, Andy Smith and Chris Cowdrill at the same time.

I've been interested to learn just how emotionally connected Shaun is to these paintings on his own blog.  It's all too easy to plunge into intellectual debate over the formal properties or cultural context of an artwork but easy to forget that, often, an artist's motivations are deeply personal.

Anyway, having already tried to raise a bit of awareness about the show, here are a few of my own reflections on the actual paintings…

Shaun Morris, 'Silence' (L & C), 'Journey's End' (R), Oil On Canvas, 2012

  • The 'Stolen Car' suite is obviously about 'place' and most obviously about the disregarded or despised marginal locations that our highly developed, modern world increasingly generates.

  • Such places are romantically named 'Edgelands' today.  They might just as easily be labelled as fringe destinations; transitional zones; arenas of vacancy; cartographical gaps; breathing spaces; underworlds.  Morris' painted world is quite literally an example of the latter.

  • Planners, politicians, marketeers and generators of wealth don't intend we should waste time dwelling on the spaces beneath motorways, industrial estates, car parks and the fringes of housing estates.  Artists, thinkers, romantics and anyone looking for a place to step off the treadmills of life, explore them for exactly that reason.

  • These nocturnes are submerged in the sickly amber glow of street lighting.  Sometimes it shines directly in our faces or forms satellites overhead. It makes the air thick and slow but is completely modern. The World becomes orange and violet; drained of naturalism; hallucinatory.  The planet has never looked like this before in its entire history.

Shaun Morris, 'Silence' (Triptych), Oil On Canvas, 2012

  • The carriageways are hoisted overhead on a forest of concrete supports.  We can only imagine the lives that fly through the light up there; insulated by speed; fleeting; moving through a transitory parallel dimension.  We know them only through traffic noise.  They remain oblivious to our very existence.  You can skate across the map but remain disconnected from life on the surface.

  • We project ourselves into the zones depicted, drawn along a minor road or across a threadbare field; between the uprights framing the view beyond; through light and into pools of dense, inky shadow.  Those shadow shapes become solid and hard edged, integrated into the architecture of both concrete and composition.  They flatten and formalize.  Positive and negative become reversed.  In these pictures we must find nuance in the light.  Dark tones are definitive and impassive. 

  • Should we fear to linger here? What cut-throat jeopardy might lurk in those shadows?  Or, is this a refuge; a place of solitude and reflection; somewhere to dream and mourn the dead?  Maybe we must endure some level of threat to find respite.  Perhaps neither thoughts nor deeds are policed down here.

Shaun Morris, 'Memories', Oil On Canvas, 2102

  • These paintings reveal a world of concrete and steel; of fences and electricity.  But it is full of leaves too.  Trees and bushes mitigate hard-edged geometry.  A screen of branches fragments the motorway's parapet in a near-abstract painting all about the mediation of pattern.  In another, a desiccated clump dominates the foreground.  Rapid brush marks flicker in the gloom, as though caught in camera’s flash.

Shaun Morris, 'Weird Nightmare', Oil On Canvas, 2012

  • In a dramatic canvas of angular futurism, Morris looks up at the underside of our modern world.  In the narrow gap between carriageways he finds infinity, bizarrely in a ribbon of bright orange.

Shaun Morris, 'The Gap', Oil On Canvas, 2012

  • The painter depicts a solemn realm of rooted pillars and static structure but he works rapidly.  His brush hurries on with an urgency to depict.  Eye and mind might linger but his hand does not.  Distant painted columns lean forward, as if on the march.

  • After repeated viewings, a pale, lonely horse emerges; paddocked amongst columns and pylons; grazing at the edge of the Modern Age. (Morris recounts being mistaken for a Horse Welfare official, - how often do artists face suspicion in the field?).  Can an equine brain encompass modernity?   I remember a visionary motif - the unicorn from Scott's 'Blade Runner'.

Shaun Morris, 'Silence' (Detail Of Central Panel), Oil On Canvas, 2012

  • I think too of Edward Hopper with his commitment to representation and his willingness to describe modernity.  Hopper also loved the city at night under artificial illumination; found detachment and melancholy in implied solitude. 

  • Here at the edge of things; beneath a main artery; where Second City bleeds into Western Marches, Shaun Morris comes home.  With Springsteen running through his head he hears the romance of the road.  He finds poetry in concrete and meaning in a forgotten land.

Shaun Morris' 'Stolen Car' exhibition will remain on display at Rugby Art Gallery & Museum until 22 February 2013.


  1. Hi Hugh. Just read this, and felt compelled to say a big thank you for this post. I'm very flattered that you wanted to write this about my humble paintings, but also think the quality of your observations and your insight is terrific. The fact that they are about my work is even better! I'm feeling a bit deflated by the usual lack of interest in an exhibition of mine this week after alot of effort to try and get people to visit, but reading this makes the whole experience seem that much more worthwhile. Thanks again

    1. No problem Shaun. I guess it's all about the 'artists, thinkers and romantics' hanging on to certain ways of looking at the world that diverge from the standard ones we are sold. It's dispiriting to face the apathy or indifference of people who don't understand how important that is, and so doubly important to recognise that there are at least a few who do. Just knowing there are a few other folk out there still trying to scratch the itch is invaluable. In that context, recognising someone else's achievement just seems to natural thing to do.

      Also, I enjoyed writing it and the paintings really did release all that stuff.