Inspiration comes from many places, and what inspires an artist to create may not be the same thing that inspires a viewer to appreciate, but the power of good art is that ability to act as a mediator, as a go-between, from the source of initial artistic inspiration to the work’s ability to inspire something in those that view it.
Since graduating from the University of Utah with a Howard Clark Scholarship and receiving “Best of Show” at the U’s BFA exhibition, Alexander Morris continues to be inspired, staging two extremely successful shows in as many years, first at the U’s Gittins Gallery (see our article here) and then at the Salt Lake City Main Library. This week he unveiled 18 new works at Alderwood Fine Art in an exhibit that is a return to and amplification of the raven metaphor that has inspired Morris’ previous work.
Morris’ use of the raven, or wolf-bird, as personal totem dates back to his childhood imagination and role-playing games and has served to ground his layered, mostly abstract canvases. The metaphor of “Conspiracy in the Sky” is a recent occurrence that came about when Morris, once again in the wilds, gazed into the sky above and found a mass of ravens — what ornithologists call an unkindness, a constable or a conspiracy — saturating the atmosphere, their circular patterns of flight, their diving sweeps, and churning, swooping curls encompassing the sky. This awesome sight, and the artist’s absorbing, contemplating and evocative reconnection with his own childhood experience has led to a now visceral, passionate art-making expression.
But don’t think for a moment that Morris has painted ravens in the sky for his new show; the act of mimicry is not the stuff of inspiration. Morris, now well-known for a reductive painting that explores the inner fabric of the qualities and possibilities of paint itself, makes use of his metaphor, and channels the essences he finds in the richness and subtlety of nuanced color, the depth he finds in the grain of texture, and the sublime he experiences as his paintings take flight like a swooping conspiracy of ravens. It is an act of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual transcendence for the artist who has revisited the reality of the truth of his life and embraces the reality and truth of the present.
In works like “Welkin,” an archaic term for the sky, or “Five Tales,” a reference to the raven’s role as storyteller, the viewer may not know anything of the wolf-bird and the metaphor of ravens in the sky, but their appreciation need not be diminished by this. As they find absorption in the rhythmic qualities of the textural patterns, find an emotional connection with the ethereality of weightless color —which can be connected with emotionally and be emotionally transporting and non-domineering — and discover a universe of intellectual connectivity with their own “conspiracies in the sky,” they may see their own youthful “birds of prey” and discover the reality of the truth of their own life and embrace this reality and truth of their present. This is inspiration.
Conspiracy in the Sky, new works by Alexander Hraefn Morris is at Alderwood Fine Art through March 12. Showing concurrently is a selection of works by students from the University of Utah.
Ehren Clark studied art history at both the University of Utah and the University of Reading in the UK. For a decade he lived in Salt Lake City and worked as a professional writer until his untimely death in 2017.