Victoria Morton, Broken Waveform, 2019, oil on canvas, 98 3⁄8 × 90 5⁄8".

Victoria Morton, Broken Waveform, 2019, oil on canvas, 98 3⁄8 × 90 5⁄8".

Victoria Morton

In comparison to Victoria Morton’s past exhibitions (her 2010 solo show at Inverleith House in Edinburgh, for example), the paintings in this presentation, “Treat Fever with Fever,” felt less schizophrenic, less overtly agitated by implicit figuration. They were also unaccompanied by the installation elements and photography often associated with Morton’s oeuvre. The works, all oil on canvas or linen and varying dramatically in scale, were sensitively installed so as to bring out the formal relations among them and command attention to detail. Each painting retains a strong sense of the hand or body’s movement when producing a mark and of the concentration paid to the weight and attitude of each application. Morton displays great range, from the unfinished vitality of the lilac-and-yellow patterning in Girlhood, 2019, to the bleeding edges and rainbow palette of The Opening Sex, 2019.

These paintings prompted questions about the relationship between painting and thinking, looking and painting, looking and thinking. As with most abstraction, the absence of clear figuration, direct allusion, or textual explanation meant we had to find our own points of reference in paintings that focus on color, composition, pattern, opacity, and space. The Daughter Cell, 2018, and Place of no Sun and Broken Waveform, both 2019, eschewed geometry and line and were built up methodically in thin washes. They are characterized by a sort of mist or haze, evoking the experience of staring at a vista through veils of gauze. Morton elicits their disorienting effect by flipping the canvases multiple times during their production, so that drips and slabs of color slide sideways or flow upward, decentering the compositions. When seen from a distance, these contrary movements create an uneasy figure/ground relationship, shifting and strange. Up close, one becomes aware again of the hand, and of how inflected and detailed the drips, blots, and washes are. In some works, the sides of the canvas were painted (each edge of Untitled, 2018, for instance, was covered with a different hue), while in others they carried accidental splashes and trickles of paint left as documents of the process.

Broken Waveform is akin to Morris Louis’s paintings of overlapping colors made between 1959 and 1960. As in Louis’s work, thin passages of color applied with the help of gravity to a white ground impart a luminous quality. Morton then intuitively develops these areas with responsive brushwork and patterning. Colors deceive, as fresher dark layers recede behind lighter marks and similarly scaled forms create plays of symmetry that encourage associations with water. In other works, daubs, pools, and rhythmic brush marks spoke obliquely of landscape but with the colors heightened, helping to associate the works with their scientific and musical titles, such as Magnetic Intonations, 2018.

The lightness of the large paintings contrasted with the thick impasto of the smaller works, which nonetheless had a similar interior scale. The mark-making in these was also more playful. In Sting in the Sea, 2019, for instance, the impressionist style called to mind Monet’s water lilies. The show was full of disarming shifts between the considered and the improvised, the invested and the disinterested, the sedate and the frenzied. By setting colors against each other while also constructing harmonious passages, Morton mediates between melancholy and psychedelia, linking the formal and psychological. Though she self-consciously adopts stylistic precedents, she employs them without irony. Morton’s work is underpinned by her investment in painting’s history, aligned with her curiosity about thinking in paint, not defensively, but with an interest in its intellectual and visual rewards in both the making and the viewing.