I’ve been writing a lot about the new realists painters lately. It’s not that I have anything against Abstract Expressionism, it’s just that I’m a fan of the new movement of Realist painters. Among the best of these is Margaret Morrison. In her recent exhibition “Larger than Life,” Morrison takes on as subject matter all of the desired and forbidden candies and artificial pastries that she experienced in her youth. Twinkies, Gummy Worms and other sugary delights are her themes. If this were only the case, this presentation would be cute, but light weight. Morrison’s work is neither. Without an ounce of irony, Morrison delivers the goods. She does it powerfully with her supreme sense of painting. Beyond this concept lies an amazing talent. Her latest show “Larger than Life” perfectly captures and illuminates trash/candy culture.
According to the press release for the exhibit, they are “like high-fructose versions of Proust’s Madeleine’s.” Staying true to the cause, the Woodward Gallery was serving Hershey Kisses and fizzy candies along with the requisite wine and cheese. Economy Candy, Tootsie Roll and The Topps Company sponsored the event with the premise being that there’s beauty in these outlawed foods. The stuff that’s just plain bad for you has a positive side. I actually saw a 4-year-old boy downing mega-sugar items at the opening (with his father literally pouring a fizzy snack down his throat). I’m not condoning this behavior, but the vibe of this show was contagious and the concept melded perfectly with the works.
Morrison combines liquid with her paint, resulting in a seamless series of hidden brush strokes; eventually utilizing a glazing process, which achieves an effect that takes realism a step further. It’s almost as if the viewer is experiencing a high definition medium, with soul. When seen from afar, it’s hard to even see these as paintings. However, upon close inspection, intentional, obvious brush strokes add highlights and texture. For example, viewing "Cupcake", from a distance is mouth watering. It’s so real that all of the senses respond. One could almost taste the creamy textures and glistening icing. When examining up clsose though, one spots brush strokes that verge on abstract expressionism. Pulling off this illusion is what separates Morrison from so many realists. The works are multi-dimensional; revealing more subtleties the longer one views.
Her innovative use of light schemes (particularly the Gummy Worms paintings), literally light up the room. Shadows are rendered through the translucent nature of the gummy worms, so these shadows were actually multi-colored mirror images. A master of the translucent, Morrison’s “Candy Jar” amazes in the way light hits the Mason jar, and how the glass morphs the candies. When I questioned her about her methods, Morrison was a little reticent to reveal her secrets. I have to respect that.
Woodward Gallery has a reputation for high-quality Realist paintings with an edge. Never succumbing to the (all to frequent) exhibitions of gimmickry, the galleriests manage to show predominantly figurative works, but combine this with the flavor of the unexpected.
Margaret Morrison’s Larger Than Life through May 9 at Woodward Gallery, 133 Eldridge St. (betw. Delancey & Broome Sts.), 212 966 3411.