“Epigenetic Mechanism #1” sits humbly on the floor of the underground gallery at Bountiful Davis Art Center, part of the circle of objects Art Morrill calls “Material Support.” Nothing about it refers back to previous art works, though it makes copious references to what lies outside today’s art. Here are samples of some recently-invented materials showing how they can interact with some older, more familiar ones. The material support referred to is not arbitrary replacement of the old with the new, but about collaboration, aesthetically uniting them to the advantage of both. Its principle parts are two elaborately-carved, delicate lattices. One is carved from wood, an organic material with a grain — a naturally-occurring, biological structure that gives a tree great strength in a crucial direction: the vertical. The other is carved from an artificial replacement that has strength in all directions. The two are joined by a graft made of blue disks that has been stitched together around parts of both lattices. The aesthetic connection makes visible the otherwise invisible strength of the graft.
The patience to repeat the same gesture, in this case a stitch, hundreds of times — that patience is shared by a rare few today. Among them are artists and surgeons, people like the sculptor Art Morrill and the doctors who patiently and repeatedly rebuilt his infant son’s heart as he grew into a life of which he stood little chance at birth. Powerless to do more, Morrill studied their work until he understood its principles, which he found ways to duplicate in his studio. He created analogies between the low-tech of sculpture and the mind-boggling sophistication of modern medicine, parallels to the combinations they make, the way they repair growing tissue with non-living matter. Along the way, he found other, pre-existing analogues, like auto mechanics, which helps him maintain a sense of perspective about two activities that sometimes demand more status than they may deserve, while at other times seems nothing short of the miraculous. “It’s not brain surgery” has become one of the great clichés of our time, but perhaps we should reply, “neither is brain surgery.”
In its obsession with the avant-garde, the 20th century lost sight of something infinitely more valuable: the eccentric. Members of the avant-garde cluster together and reject outsiders, while eccentrics are dispersed and work alone. Van Gogh was an eccentric; no one wanted to join his group. Like van Gogh, Art Morrill isn’t trying to make “the art that gets in the history books.” Instead, he’s making the art through which his heart speaks directly to the viewer, expressing his profound wonder at the many simple things that add up to make everything that counts in life.
In the middle ages, hinges joined the two halves of a diptych, usually small paintings that shared a theme between them. The hinges made for a handy, portable object that the wealthy could carry on their travels, but also made visible the theme that united the two often contrasting panels. In his “Diptych,” Morrill foregrounds what joins the two parts, which is another carved lattice. Like many of his voids and what fills them, it has the look of something that might have been allowed to crumple, or even been compressed, but which has been pulled back into shape and stabilized. Behind it are the two elements of the diptych, one considerably larger than the other, but both together framing an inset panel. These framing elements are made of corrugated cardboard, an inexpensive material that became commercially valuable when it was found to be readily recyclable, while the insets are actually comprised of several smaller parts, each distinguished by its own color. All these elements are pleasingly arranged, either for a mixed-media painting or a sculpture, but could also be read as parts of a sophisticated ensemble, such as a family or a pair, perhaps a father and a son.
There are a dozen of these elaborately-constructed, bright and colorful works, each of which finds ways to represent a positive maker who is satisfied with his outcome. “Epigenetic Mechanism #3” is tall, seeming to shoot up from the ground and overcome gravity. Several wall pieces have draped elements that border on festive decorations. Artists should be able to feel grateful for what their work does for them, for the time they are able to spend in the studio, and Art Morrill must surely have that pleasure, that surgeon’s sense of satisfaction at what his long hours and immense practice can accomplish. Some members of his audience will perceive that pleasure and take to the work immediately, as we all like to think we would have done if we had been among the first to see those van Goghs. It only requires acclimation to his eccentricity to discover the joy and satisfaction he has to share.
Art Morrill: Material Support, Bountiful Davis Art Center, Bountiful, through Oct. 29