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Rebecca Morris: Loving the unbeautiful

Rebecca Morris
Rebecca Morris, Untitled (#16-15), 2015, oil, spray paint on canvas, 75 x 75 inches.

Rebecca Morris likes to compartmentalize. Her paintings, smartly�installed�at Mary Boone’s Fifth�Avenue location through February 25, feature symmetrically placed geometric shapes, sometimes collaged onto the surfaces of the large-scale canvases. Each of the shapes, large squares or�circles,�is divided�into numerous smaller shapes�that have been casually�filled with improvised patterns, line, and brushwork. Morris’s paintings at first seem aligned with�work by contemporary painters like, say,�Trudy Benson, Lauren�Silva,�or Leah�Guadagnoli, who use�kitschy elements from ’80s graphics–stepped rules, drop shadows, squiggles, pastel palettes. But rather than evoking the gormless�charm of this earlier era,�Morris’s abstractions�are confrontational and challenging.

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Rebecca Morris, Untitled (#01-15), 2015, oil on canvas, 95 x 95 inches.

Like Kazimir Malevich and the Suprematists, Morris is interested in�non-objective imagery. Often working in a square format (neither portrait or landscape), she limits her images to geometric shapes and flat colors in order to eliminate overt references to objects and illusions of three-dimensional space. They�hover on the under-worked surface, and any illusion of depth�is fashioned�through the layering of abstract elements. Many of the forms�are created with�washy paint and pale colors that evoke a sense of ennui. In her most recent painting, Morris contrasts�a�thin, dilute, watercolor-like field of silver paint�with thick skeins�of the same metallic pigment squeezed in a grid format directly out of the tube.

Fittingly, none of the canvases�have meaningful names or explanations. Each is left untitled and Morris assigns a number for identification purposes. At the opening reception she told me�she prefers the flatness, lack of reference, and ambiguity of numbers. Thus, the title of the show is also a number–#24–which is�a reference not to the number of hours in the day as I originally had thought, but to the number of solo shows Morris�has had since she began painting.

The press release suggests that Morris has an “appreciation for unconventional beauty,” but I think that might be a little off. Morris is actually embracing a kind of willful homeliness, which for me is far more intriguing�than updated notions of beauty. I guarantee the work, which features thin washes of color, crudely painted patterns, and notation-like imagery,�will�get under your skin. Something I often wonder about is whether�the unbeautiful can be loved, and�what might�this mean for a painting. Here Morris, with great commitment,�tilts towards positive, salutary answers.

Rebecca Morris
Rebecca Morris, “#24” at Mary Boone. Installation view. The painting at left is the most recent piece, which was made in response to the architectural elements of the space.
Rebecca Morris
Rebecca Morris, “#24” at Mary Boone. Installation view.
Rebecca Morris
Rebecca Morris, “#24” at Mary Boone. Installation view.
Rebecca Morris
Rebecca Morris, Untitled, (01-13), 2015, oil on canvas, 87 x 80 inches.
Rebecca Morris
Rebecca Morris, Untitled (#12-13), oil on canvas, 87 x 80 inches.

Rebecca Morris: #24,� curated by Piper Marshall. Mary Boone, Midtown, New York, NY. Through February 25, 2017.

Related posts:
Rebecca Morris: Stubborn and independent
Conversation: Rebecca Morris and Kate MacNamara
EMAIL: Rebecca Morris on that pink painting at Frieze

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