Paul’s black and white approach

Artist Paul Morrison at the Millennium Gallery
Artist Paul Morrison at the Millennium Gallery

HAVING enjoyed solo exhibitions around the world in such cities as Tokyo and New York, Paul Morrison is staging his first large-scale exhibition in Sheffield where he is based.

Over the past 15 years Morrison has enjoyed an international reputation for bold and intriguing images, mostly in black and white. The artist finds inspiration in historic sources such as engravings and botanical illustrations along with contemporary comics and animation.

The pictures look familiar at first sight – a forest glade or a fairytale castle – but a closer look reveals oddities and contradictions. They have been likened to illustrations to a story which has yet to be written – or which the viewer is invited to create for themselves.

Auctorum, the show at the Millennium Gallery, includes paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture and film created over the past three years. Among pieces created especially for the exhibition is a vast new wall painting and a life-size gold statue.

The scale of the mural is not unusual in Morrison’s work. He produced one 150m long for a show in the Magasin national contemporary arts centre in France.

The gold figure is a departure, however, although he has produced sculpture before and has worked with gold leat.

It was inspired by his painting, Tilla, which is on show elsewhere in the gallery.

“Last year I got obsessed with the figure in the painting and wanted to take it a bit further,” he explains. “You put so much time and energy and spend so long looking at it I wanted to see it fully in the round - in 3D form.”

His previous sculptures have tended to be flat and really 2D, creating a silhouette effect which is characteristic of his paintings.

Morrison creates landscapes not from recording them out in the field but often out of books. It’s very much more about making images signifying landscape. It’s a conceptual approach to what is usually representational.

I have a roving eye. I am acquisitive about images. I will see something and I will scan it and put it on my hard drive. I have a huge repertoire of images that interest me.

The found images are woven together using digital software and recreated often on an epic scale. “Working digitally reflects where we are in history. People in 16th century Italy used the tools available to them and it would be absurd not to use the technology we have today.”

Morrison is also following artists from way back when in having assistants to undertake some of the more repetitive components of a project. “ I do still do a lot of painting and drawing,” he insists. “ I still like to get my hands dirty.”

Liverpool-born Morrison gained a degree at Sheffield City Polytechnic and then went on to do an MA at Goldsmiths College in London.

”While I was at Goldsmiths my work got a lot of attention and I was showing internationally when I was on the course. I was selected for the New Contemporaries show and before long I had three shows in New York. Things kind of snowballed from there,” he says.

“I think working in black and white and taking an unusual take on landscapes helped me get noticed. At the time it wasn’t fashionable to do landscapes and people weren’t working in black and white very much. Being at Goldsmiths creates a lot of interest.”

For many years he worked from a studio in London and divided his time between the capital and Sheffield. But he has his studio at Persistence Works.

“I have tried to limit the time I am away but I still go to America two or three times a year and I do a lot of work in Europe as well. But it’s been great to be setting up an exhibition so close to home.”

Auctorum opens in the Millennium Gallery on June 7 and will run until November 4.