Archive for category Author: Michael Morgan

The Road Less Travelled – exploring the paintings of Michael Morgan RI

A road or trackway is a constant, indeed almost a universal theme in the works of Michael Morgan, leading into, around and sometimes out of the composition. Both literally and figuratively, it is also a journey and hints at something beyond what is presented as the image within the frame.

The starting point for this book was a series of long-forgotten slides and photographs of early “lost” works that became the jumping-off point for a survey of the output of several decades. At the same time, it became a reflection of the paths that Michael’s life has taken, a retrospective not just of a working life, but of a method of working too.

Given that artists’ records often consist of poorly-exposed and chemically unstable transparencies – or worse, prints – it’s a relief to be able to report that the quality of reproduction is up to Halsgrove’s usual standards. There are no genuine duds here and those images which clearly won’t stand enlargement to the full page have sensibly been left smaller.

Michael Morgan is clear that he doesn’t want his books to be instructional, so there’s no technical information. However, that’s not the point: his work is always about the image and, if you really wanted to create something similar, it would probably be possible to see how the results were obtained. I suspect, however, that Michael’s work is so unique that the nearest it would be sensible to get would be to emulate his way of thinking, and you can spend the whole of this book working out what that is.

At £40, this is not cheap. Look through it though and you’ll see that it’s some of the best value around.

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80@80: The Paintings of Michael Morgan RI

Following on from Halsgrove’s earlier book on Michael Morgan, this new volume adds 80 new and previously unpublished works to form a celebration of the artist’s 80th birthday. There are in fact 130 illustrations in all, some of them from earlier periods of Michael Morgan’s life, making this a book that very much stands on its own as well as being a must for any lover or collector of the artist.

The necessary biographical and introductory text is in the original book and, apart from a brief foreword, the text here consists of short appreciations from a variety of artists, writers and critics. As this is a tribute these are, of course, wholly complimentary.

Even the most cursory glance at these pages is going to provoke a comparison with the work of John Blockley. This isn’t something we have to skirt round, the embarrassing admission we’re all too polite to mention, because John Blockley was the artist’s friend and mentor for many years and Morgan has deliberately built on and developed his style. Look more closely at any of the paintings and the differences are more numerous than the similarities.

This is a sumptuous volume produced with all Halsgrove’s usual care and attention to detail.

Halsgrove/Halstar 2008

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Michael Morgan RI

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

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