|Richard Cork's Choice: Malcolm Morley
The Times, 9 June 2001
9 June 2001
Malcolm Morley, Hayward Gallery
When Malcolm Morley won the first Turner prize in 1984, the decision was fiercely criticized. Though he grew up in London, and studied at the Royal College of Art with Frank Auerbach and Peter Blake, Morley left for the US in 1958. He later became an American citizen, and insular critics have claimed that he was therefore an inappropriate choice for the prize.
And yet I would argue that his win was an entirely justified recognition of one of the outstanding painters of his generation. And one of the bravest. Having earned an early reputation in the Sixties with realistic images based on postcards and holiday brochures, Morley suddenly brought them to a shocking end in 1970 with a painting of a South African racehorse.
Like all his so-called Superrealist work, it was a painstaking and richly detailed scene. But Morley disturbed everyone, and maybe even himself, by painting a colossal X in red across the canvas. As well as signaling his hatred of apartheid, this dramatic cancellation announced the termination of his Surrealist period.
During the Seventies Morley concentrated on a more freely handled sequence of apocalyptic paintings. They predicted an earthquake in Los Angeles and other, equally annihilating, disasters. His brushmarks took on an aggressive frenzy and, by the Eighties, his uninhibited approach had won him the admiration of younger, Neo-Expressionist painters.
As his retrospective at the Hayward reveals, he rediscovered his boyhood obsession with the sea, as seen in Ships Dinner Party, 1966. With the help of psychoanalysis, he started making models of boats, just as he had done as a child. Many were incorporated into his paintings, thereby bringing the 70-year-old artists work in touch with his earliest attempts to make images of the world.