Aired on WQED "Arts Magazine" April 1984
by Aaron Sheon, Art Critic and Professor of Modern Art, University of Pittsburgh
Mike Morrill is best known in Pittsburgh as a sculptor. In the past two years he has had important shows of his installations at the Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute and at the Mattress Factory. But, it may come as a surprise that he now has turned to painting. However, if you think about his sculpture and his new pictures at the Plan for Art there is an obvious connection, and it is his great skill in drawing.
In his drawings he has always been interested in geometry, order and placement. Before he made each sculpture he worked on drawings, showing the angles and square forms in charcoal with a few touches of color. The erasures in the drawings demonstrated how much he refined each line; sometimes he moved a line just a fraction of an inch. Like Mondrian, he had a great desire to control and balance and adjust each form.
The paintings seem to me to be a direct growth from these wonderful drawings. And there was an additional factor: He recently made a trip to Greece and Egypt, and began to study the archaeological sites of early cultures. Here were the geometric traces of ancient temples, really of entire civilizations, in the remains of ancient walls and carved stones strewn on the ground.
He distilled these temple floor plans and used them as the basic designs of his paintings. What you see at the exhibition are five foot square canvases, covered with one strong but refined post-modern color, over which are placed finely colored rectilinear patterns. The patterns recall both Morrill 's sculpture and the plans and diagrams of sites.
Let me describe one painting. A red square diagram seems to float on a deep, blue cool ground. Then as you look at the surface, or really through it, a little bit, you notice that there are many under layers of paint, the pentimenti, and these are also geometric plans and diagrams. The surface then of each painting should be read as a record of many layers of Morrill’s thinking about geometry, time and past civilizations.
It is interesting, too, to recall that Morrill matured in the 1960's, when his culture heroes were the geometric or hard-edge color field painters: particularly Barnett Neman, Ad Reinhardt and Joseph Albers. It is important to note also that last fall Morrill studied the Museum of Art' s marvelous American Abstract Painting exhibition. That show provided Morrill with examples of 1920's and 30’s geometric painting. In a sense it gave him the intellectual basis for his own current work.
This is an elegant and distinguished exhibition. It certainly confirms that Morrill is a thoughtful sculptor who apparently has an abundance of talent that permits him to work effortlessly with color and design as a painter.