trouble in paradise
by Douglas Messerli
Daughter of Jove, relentless power,
Thou tamer of the human breast,
Whose iron scourge and torturing hour
The bad affraight, afflict the best!
Thomas Gray, Hymn to Adversity
Jim Morphesis Wounds of Existence, curated by Peter Selz, Pasadena Museum of California Art, the show opened on January 24, 2015; I attended a panel discussion with the artist and Jay Belloli, moderated by Howard Fox on January 25, 2015.
Early in a discussion with the artist, Jim Morphesis, speaking in a public conversation about his new exhibition, “Wounds of Existence,” curated by Peter Selz at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, panelist Jay Belloli asked the artist how, upon moving to Los Angeles from Philadelphia, his painting was affected. It appeared that instead of representing a radical shift, Morphesis’ work—so different from most artists who immigrated to the “Golden” State—became even more moody and troubling in its depiction of religious and Greek mythology. Morphesis quipped, after also explaining that during the same period he had been attending the early and troubled years at CalArts (California Institute of Arts), that “This place [Los Angeles} needed something dark.”
His contrarian point of view reveals something important about the expressionist-influenced artist, who worked throughout the early 1980s—a time of rising performance- and theoretically-based art—in intensely personal abstractions of classical historical masterworks such as Diego Velázquez (in No Sanctuary, 1981) and Giovanni Bellini (in Destiny, 1982). Indeed, for much of the next decade, until he returned to New York City late in that decade, the artist continued exploring elements of Greek mythology in works centered upon Prometheus and Icarus.
In the retrospection of this revelatory show, we realize that perhaps what Morphesis was attempting to conceal early on in his artifacts was just this painful interlocution between love and death, particularly given the inevitable suffering and torturing hours that inevitably results. Surely it might have been easier to turn his attention to the Pacific landscape, to dance in the sunset, or query the increasing international community surrounding him; but those were not directions with this instinctually committed artist could go. Obviously, the desire to into look into the face of suffering was already in the artist’s DNA by the time he arrived in what others described as paradise.
*Actually, the substance was a kind of home-made concoction of materials: Rhoplex (an ancrylic binder) was combined with Rutile (a granulated mineral used in ceramic glazers) and glass micro beads (used for sand-blasting and for reflective paints) as well as metallic pigments.
**Interestingly, Morphesis described the doors he remembers from the Orthodox mass as being closed, when the priests retreated behind the doors.
Los Angeles, January 27, 2015