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The Geometrics of Improvisation

THE works of Mali Morris are bold and definite, yet at the same time they are fleeting. Something about the strong, large markings out of which she makes her strong, large paintings suggests improvisation, like music performance that vigorously commands instant attention because it is unlikely to occur exactly like this ever again.

There is a sense of urgency, or at least of no-nonsense, about Morris's work. In a similar manner, a child might draw on a blackboard with colored chalks, conscious that the next moment they will be wiped off. Drawings in beach sand have the same kind of freedom - almost a freedom from the responsibility of permanence.

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Paradoxically, Morris is working in a mode which presumes permanence. She is no graffiti artist. She paints on canvas, intending her work to be seen in galleries. And although carefree, there is in fact nothing in the least careless here. The great markings of the brush, describing triangles, halved discs, and chevrons of paint color, are decisive, as if she has calculated exactly and with slow thought where she will place them and then, with loaded brush, has swiftly, unhesitatingly, painted her decisio ns. They are like the movements of the bow of a double-bass player. For this reason they seem to contain the moment, the vibrant sonority, of their making.

When painting is performance, it runs considerable risks. The chief danger is triteness, a kind of slick facility. About Morris's paintings, however, there is a primitive, almost roughshod quality, an awkwardness that defies any such shallow easiness. Still, she achieves the virtue of apparent simplicity.

Chevrons and triangles are forcefully directional, like arrows or indicators, like sound signals made visible. The color they carry is in this way made to move dynamically in and out of the painting. Her multi-directions balance rather than crash; they seem more likely to slip past each other than collide.

A chevron may charge up (or down) the canvas and simultaneously recede in the imagined depth of the field of vision. The "background" in these paintings is more of an atmosphere, allowing the foremost marks breathing space.

Really there is no conventional foreground or background in such paintings, and there is continual interplay between what might be read as space-interval and solid, between what might be considered "negative" or "positive."

Like the chalk on the blackboard, Morris often places white or light tones on top of dark, reversing the convention of white as merely empty space or source of light. It has substance and form - like chalk.

Although "abstract" and self-contained in their free exploration of color relationships and form dynamics, these paintings do not feel subjectless. They do not seem separated from the "real" world, inaccessible in their cool geometrics.

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In fact, their geometrics are not cool at all. They are felt, enjoyed, vivid - and they have that variety encountered in the approximately geometrical markings in nature - butterfly, bird, shell, flower.

It is as if the high degree of intuition that informs Morris's paintings has ensured they are part of nature and our direct experience of it, not remote, cerebral, and cut off.

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