Art in general, especially contemporary art, always pushes reality towards impossibility, towards a vast and complex potentiality, where common sense is banned and useless.
Artists, especially contemporary artists, operate on the borderlands, where the choice of nomadism as a behaviour and diaspora as a destiny is more important than the final conquest of new territories: the endless and exquisite movement of the imagination testifies to art's capacity for both dismantling and condensing symbols.
The territory mapped by contemporary artists is the mutable domain of iconography: borders blur and shift with the multiple forces of geography and history, the origins and development of forms and systems of meaning.
Artworks are the product of time and space multiplied, a temporary balance struck in the formal arrangement of images marked by both arbitrary choices and necessity. Neither of these features is simply produced by knowledge and culture: both are distilled by a creative process that forgets - by heart - technique and philology, responding only to the mysterious and precise mathematics of images.
The great quality of Malcolm Morley's work - paintings, sculptures, drawings and watercolours, lies in it's power of visual and plastic distillation: the honed energy of his imagery pushes reality into a totally hostile dimension, alien to our everyday, idle existence.
"I have already stated in my essay on freedom that, because of the mysterious power governing even the most casual events of our lives, we must become accustomed to viewing each event as necessary. This fatalism is actually very soothing and fundamentally true. But (as Diodorus of Megara properly stated) the only consequence of the mere law of causality is that solely what has become or will become real is possible" (Arthur Schopenhauer).
This statement captures the essence of Malcolm Morley's creative strategy: the iconographical necessity of his images is reached by condensing both real and fantastic elements, combined to form the epiphany of his visions. It is only from the figurative motif that we can track down the original potentiality of his paintings, sculptures and drawings. Art struggles to install a new, magical sense of time, refusing traditional and logical cause-effect dialectics. It works; rather, on the counter-intuitive notion that art restores reality to its very potential, open nature.
Malcolm Morley's work is inhabited by the spatial immanence of images that always allude to the temporal imminence of events totally arbitrated-by the artist's powerful decisions.
"The fact that the sphere of possibility is much vaster than that of reality is actually only partially apparent, in so far as the concept contains infinity in one instant but we are not given the infinite time for it to be understood. Therefore, our gaze cannot take in the sphere of reality completely because - like time - it is infinite but seems smaller for this very reason. We are, however; only partially dealing with a purely theoretical possibility here, for that which is possible is that which can occur, but that which can occur is sure to occur as it otherwise cannot occur. Reality is the conclusion of a syllogism whose premises are based on possibility" (Arthur Schopenhauer).
The paralysis of the Scuola Metafisica is canceled by Malcolm Morley's images: the relationship or better, the embodiment of temporal imminence into spatial immanence defines Malcolm Morley's art in terms that differ from those of the Italian art of De Chirico and his descendants. The Italian artists aimed at paralyzing figures and objects by subtracting them from the system of relations within the whole, whereas Malcolm Morley ties his figures into a net of different times and events, complicating, rather than simplifying, the perception of time in each picture.
With amorous cannibalism, Malcolm Morley bites into the models of Gauguin and Rousseau and reinvents them with brilliant vitality. The exotic epiphany of Gauguin and the presurreal scenes of Rousseau are invested with the vitality of an everyday reality that admits neither suspension or introspection.
Malcolm Morley's images are brightened by an energy that flows directly from Futurism, through Expressionism and into Pop Art, creating a new sense of time. The purely subjective gaze collapses into a field of figurative elements: these collide and condense into an objective form, not prior to but during the very act of contemplation, right before our eyes. Malcolm Morley only paints in present tense: in his works time is not defined by exceptional events. It is rather the combination of quality and possibility that make his art and sense of time seem real.
The very form of his paintings is shaped by a strong feeling of hospitality: his works are open to historical memories and geographical quotations. They accept allusions to natural landscapes as well as figures coming from a belligerent and colonial past.
Ships sail through foamy seas, cutting them with analytical precision. A few inches above lay skies filled with the lightness of hot air balloons: trips through space and time -nautical and aerial prostheses to help the artist in his nomadic wanderings. Destination anywhere.
Malcolm Morley is always elsewhere: his naval typologies recall Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Lindberg's pioneering flights, the decorated balloons of the Paris World Fair and the white sails of some XVIII century English ship. The adventurous spirit of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe lays in the background.
This is all amplified by the gaze of an artist who goes beyond photography, fi1m, television, and all technological means of mechanical reproduction of images, refusing their purely idealizing treatment of space. In Malcolm Morley's paintings, space is illuminated by the imminence of catastrophic and joyful events, born from the fertile imagination of an artist trying to condense elements, rather than separating them: ship, airplane, objects stowed on board, fluids, night and day, different climates, sun and snow - all together.
Malcolm Morley's gaze is limpid but, unlike Friedrich, he is not intimidated by the sublime nature of landscape. He knows how to accommodate an alpine landscape that longs for the infinite in the completeness of an image: he possesses a mountain through description, the intrigue of nature through the strength of a distant rock, the scene of two intersecting boats through the lenses of binoculars.
He is always using close-ups: images are captured by the imminence of a gaze that acquires emotion precisely through its descriptive abilities. A vision that captures the sea of the Azores, the beaches of Jamaica and the Canary Islands, the hostile mountains in Aspen, as well as the decorated stillness of a Miami hotel.
The gaze of Malcolm Morley is nomadic and never identifies with the mere sentimental landscape; he rather goes through it, cuts through. Nor is he seduced by the monumental dimensions of sculpture. The miniaturization of forms (ships, tanks, sentinels ... ) allows us to forget the monumental dimensions of sculpture.
The irony of deprivation empowers Malcolm Morley's imagery. It distances itself front the source of its own vision with the diasporic lightness of the ephemeral, treating nature and the memory of history in the same way.
This is how Morley deconstructs and dematerializes the iconic, motionless Byzantine religious art: he picks watercolours and sinuous lines to portray the face of Christ inside the architecture of a Cretan church.
Every element, every single brush stroke is based on the stratified relationship of abstract and figurative signs. And the ancient Spanish knight, armed, in the final pose of death, is buried between a boat and a tank with its guns blasting. Voyage and violence, technologies of conquest and war coexist in the immanence of a space that seals everything in the image's present tense.
Contamination, pastiche, and stylistic confusion prove that Malcolm Morley belongs to his and our time: archaeological fragments, bits and pieces are just here - at our feet, and we can freely exchange and mix them, the artist's touch giving them a final dignity though form. Malcolm Morley's form, however, is never repressive: he makes colours ring, and his chromatic surfaces happily produce short circuits between different iconographical climates.
Out of cultural nomadism and stylistic eclecticism, Malcolm Morley has chosen the individual adversities of the lonely artist, beyond all group poetics and standardized production. His position and expressive freedom portray him as a forerunner of Transavanguardia, the movement, first Italian, and then international, that relieved the congestion of art by freeing it of all experimental compulsion, pushing it away from a purely processual value and towards enduring formal results.
By formal result I mean the meaningfulness of an image that withholds in the immanence of visual space the imminence of a temporality that can vitalize vision. It means restoring an expressive dignity to art, which has to face reality but not in an excessive and uber-mensch manner: a work that does not want to face reality with the illusion, the delirium of infinite power, an artwork working the hidden yet visible miracle of permanent turnabout. To demonstrate, starting from the necessary creative act, that reality is not obtuse and irreversible, but open, filled with the richness of its inner potentiality.
Here is the miracle of art and, in particular, of Malcolm Morley's art. He does not pretend to fight the idleness of the everyday with the potential intervention of imagination: he rather demonstrates the autonomy of the latter through the reality of an image tied to the initial, original potentiality of life, which remains as such.
Artists are not possessive, though they could be possessors. Resisting the establishment of a permanent dominion, every artist should clear the immanence of form through the imminence of an exciting image: an image that makes time flow back and forth, in all directions, only to return continuously in the hopes of some form of duration. This is the circular moment of vision as the vocation that art has always achieved against all precariousness.
Achille Bonito Oliva