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Kodak Castle

Not on view

Kodak Castle

Artist: Malcolm Morley (British-American, 1931 - 2018)

Date: 1971
Medium: Oil on Masonite
Dimensions:
Overall: 36 x 48in. (91.4 x 121.9cm)
Signed: Lower right: 'Morley 1971'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 82.6
Label Text
Malcolm Morley came to his artistic maturity during the Pop era of the 1960s. Like other Pop artists, he used appropriated imagery from advertising and news media for his subjects.

In Kodak Castle Morley paints, in an impressionist style, the now-clichéd image of a castle in a landscape. By including the Kodak logo in the upper right corner, however, Morley clearly declares that his source is not the French countryside, but an advertisement. In his paintings, Morley addresses many questions about representation. In an image-saturated culture, how is firsthand experience - with nature, emotions, or other people - possible?

MEM

Text Entries

Malcolm Morley left his native England in 1957 when Pop art was emerging as a central force in England and America. At that particular moment Morley was more interested in the American Pop artist’s predecessors, the Abstract Expressionists. His first exhibition in New York in 1964 featured paintings of horizontal bands overlaid with abstract marks resembling waves and clouds. In these works he sought to investigate diverse ways of painting these elements—waves and clouds—rather than allowing the surface of his canvases to be an Expressionist’s interpretation of those elements. He soon amplified this exploration of art’s own modes of representation by shifting to other types of conventional signs for images. Similar to the Pop and Minimal artists of the 1960s, he turned to society’s ready-made forms.

The Pop artists imitated the commercial signs and media techniques found in our modern environment in television, newspapers, and advertisements. With their interest in recognizable subject matter, they commented on the stereotyped and secondhand reality generated through the media. Not only did they challenge the idealistic content of earlier modern art, but they also diffused in a deadpan manner the potency of modernism by combining the techniques of commercial media with the formalism of fine art. The Minimalists also shared the Pop artist’s interest in duplication. They chose industrially prefabricated shapes as their ready-made images, and investigated the literal properties of their art by focusing on such pre-established qualities as overall shape, units of shape, and surface. Crucial to the Minimalists’ aesthetic was their conceptualization of the artistic process.

Instead of attempting to encompass all facets of advertisements, Morley singled out the photograph or postcard as his subject, and in 1965 he became the first artist to produce paintings that were virtually indistinguishable from the photographic process. He framed his highly illusionistic scenes, such as Rhine Chateau of 1969 (private collection, Paris), with a white canvas field or border to further enhance the illusion that the painting was a postcard or tourist poster. The subject of Morley’s paintings was Pop art’s mechanically reproduced image as image, in which he avoided any emotional involvement by ordering them over the telephone according to color, and by painting his compositions upside down with minutely ordered abstract strokes. Like the Minimalists he also utilized the grid when painting because the device enabled him to emphasize process. He invented his own way of covering the ground without being involved in a subjective arrangement of parts, the hierarchy of figure and ground. or the emotional influence of colors. By synthesizing Pop subject matter with conceptual ideology and realist illusionism, Morley became a pivotal figure in the evolution of the Photo-Realist style. He differed from the Photo-Realists, however, because he never used a spray gun or a projector to enlarge subjects. In fact, when he painted the highly illusionistic poster scene of a South African race track in 1970 (Neue Galerie, Aachen), he canceled it with a mono-printing of a painterly red x, which referred to the political situation, but, more importantly, alluded to his changing attitudes about the techniques of the Photo- Realists.(1)

In Kodak Castle, of 1971, Morley depicted a turreted French chateau beside a river flocked by white swans. As in Rhine Chateau, however, the subject is not the sun- drenched tranquil landscape, but rather its Kodachrome copy. Its high-keyed color depicts a typical European scene filtered through the cliché of a photograph. postcard, or poster. To reinforce this second reading, Morley painted the yellow and red trademark name, Kodak, in the upper right corner of the composition. The Utica painting is different from Rhine Chateau in that it was painted in oil rather than acrylic, with brushstrokes that erupt from the surface of the support and in its lack of a white border. Kodak Castle is a major work of the early 1970s, which embodies Morley’s evolving ideas about the making of art from a reproducible source and the making of a picture with its own unique aura.

 

Notes

1. Michael Compton, Malcolm Morley: Paintings 1965—82, exhibition catalog (London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1983), pp. 10-11.

Copyright
Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s).