Critics’ Picks

Alex Morrison, Something Nasty in the Woodshed, 2015, tempera mural, 119 x 63 1/4"

Alex Morrison, Something Nasty in the Woodshed, 2015, tempera mural, 119 x 63 1/4"


Alex Morrison

SFU Gallery
Academic Quadragle 3004, 8888 University Drive
September 5–December 11, 2015

The Burnaby Art Gallery
6344 Deer Lake Avenue
September 4–November 8, 2015

An engraving in the original wooden mantle of the 1909 Tudor-style mansion that is now home to the Burnaby Art Gallery reads, “The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.” On the wall above, the Canadian artist Alex Morrison has painted a black tempera mural of a cluster of magic mushrooms, alluding to the Ceperley House’s former life, not as the country home, monastery, or cult center that it also was, but as temporary student residences that played host to many a wild party and sit-in in the 1960s (from which psychedelic graffiti reportedly still remains on its attic walls).

Morrison’s eclectic work—which includes ceramics, painting, furniture design, and sculpture—is rooted in site research, which he infiltrates at the level of both surface and narrative. Here this practice leads him into areas of craft, where numerous hand-painted ceramic plates are set alongside works in gouache that fuse witty Victorian aphorisms with the decorative motifs of the Arts and Crafts movement. A new, commissioned chandelier—aptly titled “A Fine Contamination,” 2015—elegantly references the gallery’s stained-glass windows and exposed wooden rafters in golden, powder-coated aluminum, and brightly colored Plexiglas. At the SFU Gallery nearby, this interest in pastiche extends to questions of collecting, where Morrison’s paintings and sculptures are interspersed with artworks from the university’s permanent collection. Highlighting some of the countercultural narratives that have inhabited Arthur Erickson’s concrete campus over fifty years, the once radical is reframed within Morrison’s decorative systems—calling attention to questions of authenticity and, ultimately, the fashionability of ideas.