Michael Morrill

The Bayer Collection: from Beckmann to Warhol

Art of the 20th and 21st Centuries

For the sculptor and painter Michael Morrill (born in Vermont, USA, in 1951), the dualism of life is a universal truth, a convincing answer to the metaphysical question of intellect and substance. 

Morrill, who describes himself as a classist, started to explore this question with large-format minimalist sculptures, before starting to work on canvas. Since the mid-1980s Michael Morrill has worked primarily as a painter, rather than as sculptor. He is fascinated by the influences of the abstract art of the 20th century and the effects of digital imaging techniques on contemporary works in the spheres of painting, drawing, and printmaking. 

His view of the world and of art finds expression in the series entitled Janus which has been produced since 1984. The meticulously and painstaking executed works of various sizes, whose rectangular fields are assembled into perfect squares, are minimalist. 

Drawing on the two-part structure of the paintings, these works have been given the title Janus. The reference to the oldest Roman God, who symbolizes the duality of humans and of personhood and is depicted with two faces (one facing forwards and the other facing backwards), is at the heart of the artist’s agenda. Furnished with the ability to see both the future and the past, Janus was considered the God of all origins: beginning and end, entry and exit, the God of doors and gates, the father of all things. 

Janus XXXII, 1987, Acrylic on canvas over panels, 72 x 72 inches.

Janus XXXII, 1987, Acrylic on canvas over panels, 72 x 72 inches.

The company owns three Janus works by the artist, executed in 1987. In Janus 32 Morrill made use of the bifurcation of the canvas to express the subject of dualism in an artistic manner. The large format initially keeps the viewer at a distance, which is necessary in order to perceive the rhythm of the surfaces and the tension of the colour composition. The left side features clearly delineated yellow, white, and black colour fields, and is horizontally aligned, whereas the vertical dominates the right-hand section. The colour palette, expanded to include red and blue, is blended as a result of the application of a squeegee to the surface; contours and clarities are slightly smudged without disturbing the pictorial rhythm. Where the left side is rigorously composed and the surface appears smooth, the right is more pastose, sensually structured, and has different color depths that result from coincidence. Morrill uses the structure and the countless fine details of his composition to achieve precise contrasts: light and dark, above and below, clear and blurred, horizontal and vertical, the surface structure and the flatness of the canvas. 

In this way, an image of his idea is formed in the middle of the austere, square frame; the duality becomes visible. The effect of his painting on the viewer is based first on its formal severity, and upon closer inspection reveals itself to be unexpectedly expressive.

RZ (2013: Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany)

 
 
Janus XXIX, 1987, Acrylic on canvas over panels, 48 x 48 inches.

Janus XXIX, 1987, Acrylic on canvas over panels, 48 x 48 inches.

 
Janus XXIV, 1987, Acrylic on canvas over panels, 48 x 48 inches.

Janus XXIV, 1987, Acrylic on canvas over panels, 48 x 48 inches.