Through their work, artists reveal a vision of the world. Beyond an interpretation or a response, art can be a way of seeing life that seems to break open the ordinary surface of things to show us an alternate realm already formed and waiting to be exposed.

Dick Morrill reveals visions of individual and social reality, through an art that is both personal and political, visually acute while speaking truth to power. His art is uneasy and psychically charged, but it looks at humanity and its follies with a kind of avid amazement. There is in this work a critique of the plutocrat, the military dictator, and the elected abuser of democracy. At the same time there is a willingness to look at the toll that our personal transgressions take upon each one of us.

This artist is a humanist with an edge, employing allegory, satire and abstraction to make us see what he feels. In this sense he is an expressionist, with a connection to German painters like Max Beckmann and Otto Dix, who saw their own societies decaying from within. And Morrill shares with American social realist painters like Jack Levine and Hyman Bloom a sense of responsibility to embed dissent in aesthetic experience.

Morrill’s art takes diverse forms: narrative paintings, portraits and bas reliefs. In all of them there is a constant energy that insists on manic simultaneity, while distorting figures and fracturing form. In Lady with a Fan, America as a battered, fallen Statue of Liberty is tempted by a forked-tongue angel, while an equally dissolute clown blows smoke in her other ear, as he holds a portrait of a corrupt politician who hovers above a snaking red oil pipeline. In the midst of this national spectacle looms a black monstrous head neither human nor animal, the embodiment of a foreign war gone disastrously wrong. All is painted with an anxious, angled, sooty, hallucinatory vigor.

In Morrill’s portraits, whether in paint or bas relief paper mache, the space is filled by a single head, the contours of the face broken into colored shards or a raddled topography. Painted on textured grounds, these riven faces seemed mapped with their own inner turmoil. The portraits are social and psychological, each distinctively personal, yet all sharing both a bold presentation of the self and inadvertent exposure, as well. The optimistic priest is shadowed by self-doubt, the natty gent is shown as the imperialist trespasser he is, the archeologist is herself a hidden excavation exotically-hued like the sky behind her. Upon these vain-glorious, melancholy, brave, and introspective faces, the artist lavishes a raw attention, a kind of ambivalent, fevered love.

John Mendelsohn




Artist Statement
Catalogue Essay 2012

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