Regan Morris

Sable-Castelli Gallery

Regan Morris greets the millennium by throwing open the shutters and letting some light in. Whereas his 1994 show, “Last Works,” drew a dusky parallel between the Gay ’90s of Tchaikovsky and Oscar Wilde and the present era, with its losses to AIDS, his recent exhibit yielded fresh possibilities from a technique Morris has used for years, and also from the transformative potential of play.

Morris’ new work allies his unique “peeled” painting technique with a brighter palette, supplemented by a concatenation of cut-paper shapes: a pearl necklace, a burning building, a thought balloon, to name a few. His method involves applying latex paint to cotton sheeting that has been treated with caulking—the latex cracks because it dries more quickly than the caulking. Morris then affixes a paper cutout to the resultant sheath using shellac (which also serves as a resist for more paint). After curing, the sheath is soaked in Varsol, causing stains to emerge as the colors of the paint and caulking bleed into one another. Although this effect may be guided by the use of the resist, much of it is left to chance. To make the finished work, he presses a piece of acrylic-coated gauze against the sheath and lifts an impression. Like lickable tattoos, the original image is destroyed in the process of replication. Consequently, Morris’ works are less paintings in the gestural sense than monoprints in paint. The entire process is rich with metaphor—a complex interplay of control, chance, and inscription.

The resulting surfaces might resemble elephant skin or drought-stricken acreage were it not for their rich coloration and the whimsical choice of objects hovering at the center. In Devil Costume, 1996, the candy-pink silhouette of a child’s Halloween costume glows above a ground of black and bleeding red. And over the robin’s-egg blue, gray-green, sable, and magenta of Thought Balloon #2, 1996, floats a cartoon bubble containing a tumescent penis. Looking as if they were drawn by a school kid, the objects hint at a self-conscious strategy to resist over-intellectualization and infuse the work with playfulness. Seemingly inconsequential shapes such as snowflakes, lightning bolts, and radio towers might suggest that the artist’s earlier concerns have been tossed aside in favor of amnesiac frivolity. But, ultimately, the work doesn’t bear that out. The elegiac longing of “Last Works” is still there, a hint of melancholy fossilized between the layers and fissures, while the objects themselves flutter weightlessly—they suggest meaning even as they evade it, like an off-the-cuff remark or sly joke. While these paintings allude to the weight of memory, they’re also flush with a readiness to get on with life.

Lisa Gabrielle Mark