JIM MORPHESIS - Pasadena Museum of California Art


JIM MORPHESIS - Pasadena Museum of California Art
Wounds of Existence
January 25–May 31, 2015
It is an eternal phenomenon: the insatiate will can
always, by means of an illusion spread over things,
detain its creatures in life and compel them to live
on. One is chained by the Socratic love of knowledge
and the delusion of being able thereby to heal the
eternal wound of existence; another is ensnared by
art’s seductive veil of beauty fluttering before his
eyes; still another by the metaphysical comfort that
beneath the flux of phenomena eternal life flows on
—Friedrich Nietzsche
The Birth of Tragedy (1872) Front Cover
Destiny [detail]
Oil, magna, alkyd resin, and wood
on wood panel
68 x 64 inches
Collection of Laifun Chung and
Ted Kotcheff
Rose XV [detail]
Oil, enamel, gouache, and collage
on wood panel
26 x 26 inches
Collection of the Artist
No Sanctuary
Oil, acrylic, wood, nails, wire, tape,
and gold leaf on wood panel
26 1/2 x 29 inches
Collection of Ray Mnich
Far Right
Skull and Red Door
Oil, magna, enamel, charcoal,
paper, wood, and gold leaf on
wood panel with wooden door
83 x 76 1/4 inches
Collection Museum of
Contemporary Art San Diego;
Gift of Jacob and Ruth Bloom
Back Cover
Female Torso with Green Doors
Oil, acrylic, gouache, charcoal,
and collage on wood panel with
wooden doors
71 x 83 inches
Collection Orange County
Museum of Art, Newport Beach,
CA; Gift of John and
Phyllis Kleinberg
y the early 1980s, the “death of painting” proved to be an erroneous notion.
In reaction against cool and passionless color field painting, minimal sculpture,
and conceptual art, an increasingly personal art once more came to the fore. In Germany,
Italy, and the United States, strong, individualist painting began to reappear. Like the
Expressionists before them, the Neo-Expressionists often created art that jolted the
viewer out of complacency and confronted them with unexpected configurations. Among
Americans, Eric Fischl took sex and voyeurism as a theme, Julian Schnabel worked
with broken crockery, and David Salle produced wildly rendered cartoonish images. Jim
Morphesis, raised in the Greek Orthodox Church, created deeply personal paintings
and assemblages with religious or mythological themes. The works in this exhibition
span almost forty years of the artist’s career and represent his abiding interest in the
exploration of the human condition.
The earliest paintings in this exhibition include abstractions of crosses. Through the
1970s, the artist experimented with many types of materials. These works are comprised
of rhoplex (acrylic binder), granulated rutile (a ground mineral for ceramic glazes), glass
micro beads, metallic pigments, and gold leaf, resulting in heavily encrusted textures.
By the early 1980s, the artist, inspired by art history, reconstructed paintings, or rather
assemblages, of the Crucifixion. Morphesis, re-imagining the icon of Christ on the
Cross, turned to Diego Velázquez’s magnificent painting and created shrines nailed
together with all manner of found objects that he painted in vivid colors, adding words,
a drawing of his own hand or a self-portrait, thereby refiguring the traditional image of a
modernist canon. In his assemblage painting, Destiny (1982), he reconstructed Giovanni
Bellini’s Pieta into a powerful image of eternal lamentation.
In a culture bent upon the celebration of youth and the denial of death, Morphesis
instead confronts the imminence and inevitability of dying. In a series of skull paintings,
the artist at times juxtaposes his self-portrait with the skull image. These works, with
agitated brushwork, are frightening, but like Greek tragedies they are cathartic, bringing
about release by the sheer mastery of execution. The paintings of male and female torsos
that followed are simultaneously vital and sexual in their physical exuberance, and
tragic, suggesting Prometheus or Marsyas, the Greek satyr whom Apollo flayed alive.
In his most recent series of works, Morphesis paints sensual and corporeal roses with
fleshy, blood red petals, tear drops, and deep cavities that allude to the human body
and its inescapable transience and mortality. For the past four decades, through his
paintings, he has engaged with the profoundly universal themes of life, death, the
self, myth, and spirituality. From crosses to skulls to roses, Morphesis’s work affirms:
memento mori.
Peter Selz
The exhibition is organized by the Pasadena Museum of California Art and is curated
by Peter Selz, Ph.D. For their assistance with this project, the artist and curator thank
Jay Belloli, Howard N. Fox, Brent Giddens, Doris Peckner, Roxene Rockwell, and David
S. Rubin. This exhibition is made possible in part by the Pasadena Arts and Culture
Commission and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division.
490 East Union Street • Pasadena, CA 91101
626.568.3665 • pmcaonline.org