Mali Morris RA - Colour
'Wilbury Six' Acrylic on canvas 70 x 80cm 2015 (Private Collection)
One project on the Basic Course in my first year at Newcastle involved analysing from all approaches an object that we owned. I chose a two-sided mirror that swivelled on a china stand, decorated with pink roses, cheap rococo for a teenager's dressing table. After many drawings, collages and diagrams I decided that my final work, a culmination of these two weeks of study, should be a large construction on a panel 8 feet by 4, with five or six discs sawn out from plywood and tilted against the base at various angles. My oil paints did not seem to be in the right colour palette, so I bought some pots of household gloss in pastel shades, from Woolworths. I painted each disc a different colour, keeping the base white. It was the biggest thing I had ever made, and I was pleased with it. Terry Frost was visiting the Department, about to lead a Colour Project the following week. He walked through the studios, stopped at my work, had a long quiet look, and said, "That's terrible colour, where did you get it, Woolworths?" Then a final year student said it was the best thing he had seen in ages, very contemporary, very American, beautiful. I think I slipped away, not understanding either the criticism or the compliment. It wasn't mine any more. I began to paint over the discs in white, and noticed that the colours on the reverse sides were reflecting across the base in overlapping ellipses, veils of colour. I liked this discovery so much I didn't care what anyone else might think. I hung it as it was for the crit the next day, and Terry congratulated me on its success. What did I learn? No idyll without catastrophe, and vice versa. That people can like and hate what you do, sometimes for the same reasons. That disaster can be moved through, especially if you don't know how.
On the Colour Project that began the next day, I really did learn something new about painting. Terry asked us to bring in a fruit or a flower, our oil paints, turpentine, rags and a glass panel for mixing on. We were not to draw or describe, but to look as hard as possible, mix the colours we thought we could see, and put them down in touches across a sheet of paper, or canvas. It was completely absorbing. The more I looked at the golden petals, the more I saw, and so the touches of various yellows and the lilac greys of their shadows spread out in a random but rhythmic way, slowly building form and light. Colour as entity, not adornment or description, not as decoration, but as structural force. It was in the stuff I was mixing on my glass palette, it had everything to do with the world, but without having to describe it. Something was going on in the relationships between the colours. This activity was building a new world, even as I looked, touched the surface, and looked again.
That was more than fifty years ago and I could list many changes of direction in my painting interests since then, but this epiphany somehow feels deep down and central.
From the monograph 'Mali Morris: Painting', published by Royal Academy in 2019
'Second Ghost' Acrylic on canvas 169 x 193 cm 2017
'Setting' Acrylic on canvas 16 x 20 cm 2008
'Blue Flame' Acrylic on canvas Acrylic on canvas 26 x 31cm 2004
'In The Month of May (1)' / Acrylic on paper / 19 x 23 cm /2020
Mali has written extensively on art. Read her article on the Tate Modern Matisse show in 2014 in the RA Magazine Henry Matisse: The Cut-Outs
To see more of the artist's work and to contact her try her website at malimorris.co.uk
Information about Mali Morris can also be found on the Royal Academy of Arts website at www.royalacademy.org.uk