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Los Angeles-based painter Rebecca Morris (American, b. 1969) Exhibition

Rebecca Morris: 2001 - 2022, a 21 year survey of the Painter’s work opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA) on Saturday, October 1st, 2022. Included in the exhibition are 27 paintings affirming her commitment to the history of the medium, most importantly abstract painting. Her work can be linked to the constellation of artists associated with Pattern & Decoration (P&D), a movement that emerged in response to the dominance of the severely restrained, sand in your mouth, angular/monochromatic and patriarchal, dried-out dog turd known as Minimalism. 

As with P&D, Rebecca takes the grid as a formal device and uses it to great effect communicating something much more human, at times much more pink, fallible, full of pathos, and obviously humorous. My guess is that her time spent as a grad at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in proximity to the living, breathing, indexically ever present distortion field known as The Imagists (IYKYK, and god bless everyone associated with that group for their influence on contemporary painting), encouraged the development of her hand exactly as we see it revealed and frozen in her work. Clear as LA sky you will see it in Untitled (#10-20), 2020.


Rebecca Morris, Untitled (#10-20), 2020, Oil on Canvas; Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

I was lucky enough to be in Rebecca’s studio recently (incognito), before I was able to research more about her history. As I took in her work, painter to painter, I was thrilled, speechless and immediately buffed by a chroma-pheromone transmitted nonlocally from her surfaces and spaces. It was a much-needed breach of the walls of my contemporary human, very weary and distrustful nervous system. In other words, I needed that. Yet, the only words I was able to conjure and push into our collective zone of transmission was, “The work looks great, I’ve been a fan for awhile…”. A tragic flaw in my character, a flat vocal cadence often suggests disinterest and exhaustion, all contributing to an unexpectedly dull affectation.  I’m a busy processor processing the visual, rich and new. Words have always taken a back seat, someone else can use them. 

While in her studio the name and images of the prolific painter Suzanne Doremus involuntarily flashed through my brain. In hindsight I think, if paintings were children (thankfully they aren’t), theirs would be fraternal twin sisters, from two different eggs, two different sperm cells, but the same DNA. I can imagine those two painters know something about each other's work that no one else can possibly know. The secret space between twins. I later learned that Rebecca and Suzanne are linked from their time in Chicago. A thread, continuity, very interesting.


Rebecca Morris, Untitled (#11-15), 2015, Oil on Canvas; Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

To be totally clear, I approach all writing about art and painting as a painter who is fortunate enough to find themself in proximity to incredible talent. Rebecca Morris is a perfect example.  I don’t do well knowing that a great many people might dislike me, so I couldn’t be a critic if I tried. Also, I don’t have the guts nor the necessary lived experience to be one worth anything, anyway. Having the internet since 13 and ADHD is a recipe for DOOM, perma-fragmentation.  My hard drive mind has made the idea of history seem like an infinitely dense gossamer glitch that laughs in my face any time I try to find or create a thread. Impossibly and unconsciously tangential. There’s just too much information, too many nodes, each of which emitting too much noise. Maybe the skills to meaningfully organize it into something new and coherent just haven’t been developed yet.  Bookmarks just don’t work. People now seem to bob up and down in wreckage, probably in collective shock. A slow hand ran its forefinger up the bare spine then, the moment Facebook started letting the riff raff log on it gripped us by the scruff, and later coughed in our eyes and mouth. My goodness, it wasn’t even wearing a mask. Sometimes it really does seem like all of those linkages and relationships that created continuity and narrative and logical progressions are all in the process of or are already completely annihilated - the entropy is measured in megatons and it’s at an all time high. I bob. You bob. He, she, it, we, they all bob.   

Her work makes painting make sense…if that makes sense. Likely, it’s her clarity and decisiveness, her interest in the grid, frame, composition, color, etc. Her forms, they’re wonderfully generic. The advancement and recession of which, into the picture space, the figure/ground relationships are an awkwardly hilarious, conjugate math. Perfectly keyed, a rhetorical dance that appears when you observe and disappears when you turn away. My heartbreak echoes infinitely, then I remember, I can just look again. The real gift here, and I suppose with good painting in general, is that the image is frozen and preserved. The excavation halted at a very, extremely, specific point, somehow capturing the phenomenological bliss of just being able to look and see stuff, the rare chance to be twin sisters with yourself.


Rebecca Morris, Untitled (#03-18), 2018, Oil on Canvas; Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles


Rebecca Morris was born in Hawaii and grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. She received her BA from Smith College and her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has been living and working in Los Angeles for nearly 25 years and teaches at UCLA. The ICA LA was founded in 1984, originally as the Santa Monica Museum of Art (SMMoA). In 2017 the ICA LA found a new home and identity in Downtown Los Angeles where it continues its commitment to showing relevant and innovative contemporary art. Consider showing your support by donating to ICA LA. For more information about their mission, programming and other ways to get involved, please visit: http://www.icala.org