Now here’s a thing. In his introduction to this revised and enlarged edition of a previous book on the work of Michael Morgan, Simon Butler makes the comparison with the poems of Ted Hughes. It’s quite a leap to compare the written word with the painted image, but this is a very perceptive comment. There’s a raw, uncompromising quality to both. If, in his later years, Hughes perhaps became a little self-conscious and mannered, Michael Morgan’s paintings stand equally well beside poems like The Horses from the 1957 collection, The Hawk In The Rain.
While we’re on the subject of comparisons, we also have to mention what will otherwise become the elephant in the corner, that thing we don’t quite speak of because comparing one artist’s work with another is, well, not quite polite, like a burp at a banquet. John Blockley was Michael Morgan’s friend and mentor and the influence is clear. Not that this is Blockley mark 2, far from it. Although John Blockley had an instantly recognisable style that you might think would have to remain unique, Morgan has succeeded in building on it and taking it into realms of the near abstract that Blockley never quite did. What these paintings are, more than anything else, is distillations of landscape; they’re never fully representational, you don’t get a sense of place but rather a sense of atmosphere.
The other thing that strikes you is how much the mid-century artists have influenced this strand of painting, for I think we must now call it that; Blockley has not become a cul-de-sac. The angularity of John Piper is there and perhaps even a small touch of Kyffin Williams while we’re at it. But we must stop there. Of course artists don’t work in isolation and of course they’re influenced by and borrow from each other, just as writers are and do but, with visual arts, there’s always that feeling that a comparison can also be an insinuation of plagiarism. It’s a shame, because the developing thread is, in many ways, a lot more interesting than the isolated individualist.
Anyway, this is a book that has been put together with care and love and it’s nice to see a publisher who take such an interest in its own artists (Simon Butler is the publisher responsible). This new edition is generously sized and illustrated and, frankly, a snip at £34.99. As a monograph, they could have got a lot more for it, so full marks for pricing it for the general reader and true art lover as well as the connoisseur or the moneyed collector.
First published 2004, revised and enlarged 2006