Q&A: Paul Morrison

We spoke with British artist Paul Morrison about the process behind creating his botanically inspired paintings and works on paper. Manifold worked with Morrison in 2013 to publish three screenprints: Rosy Fingered Dawn, Psychotrope and Die Nacht. Morrison’s work has been exhibited extensively around the world and can be found in major international collections, including MoMA, New York, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

You have spoken about using sources as varied as early German botanical illustrations, Northern Renaissance woodcuts and cartoons as inspiration. How do you choose between such different styles?

PM: I like to conflate many different registers within the work, like visual language/rendering style, historical period, cognitive colour, depth perception, scale, directional lighting, genericness and specificity. There is a constant oscillation between these disparate points of reference.

Scale is an important factor behind a lot of your site-specific murals. Was scale a consideration when making works on paper?

PM: Scale is always extremely important. The experience of the physical size of the work has a particular effect. I’m also very interested in how scale works in your memory when you are no longer in front of the piece.

You often play with perspective and proportions of plants in your work. What is your thought process behind this?

PM: I’m interested in creating tension between different organisational principles for arranging space in the work. The floating planes in Japanese print are very different to Western single-point perspective. The illusion of volumetric forms clash with overtly flat shapes in my work and the implication of large pictorial elements appearing closer and tiny images receding into the distance is often deceptive. The constellations of discordant references often feel like hallucinations to me.

Your works are often created using only black and white pigments, however you have been known to occasionally use gold leaf. Why do you choose to use gold in particular?

PM: I use gold leaf because of its material facture and art historical resonance. It is an object rather than a colour and it is able to reflect light in a way that is unique. My black and white paintings emulate the dematerialised nature of printed or on-screen formats. The heightened materiality of gold takes the work in different direction.

In Psychotrope a lot of people will recognise 1960s Op Art as an influence. Is it a style you have always been interested in?

PM: Yes, I have many divergent influences and Op Art is certainly one of them. I’m a huge fan of early monochromatic work by Bridget Riley but want to reference it while making it operate quite differently. In Psychotrope it is deployed as the pulsating backdrop to a digitised early woodcut of a flower, but it can function as woodgrain, sky or hills in other compositions.