Robert C. Morgan: The Loggia Paintings: Early and Recent Work
The Scully Tomasko Foundation, New York
September 17 through November 30, 2022
By ISAAC ADEN, October 2022
Formalist painting most frequently hinges on a construct of empiricism which holds that geometric forms, line, and color, ordered in harmony are sufficient content such that form is synonymous with the content of the work. This line of reasoning positions formalism within the discourse of modernism and this, as the artist has said “raises the question as to the role of formalism after post modernism" (1).
The intellectual rigor that distinguishes the paintings of Robert C. Morgan from conventional formalist work, lies in its conceptual underpinning. The reaction of natural light and its relationship to the internal components is the basis of the function of Morgan’s work. Morgan’s paintings are intimate in scale and at first glance seem to be situated with in the discourse of formalism. The fifteen paintings from the Loggia Series of 2019, are primarily square, painted in a limited pallet of pure colors rendering geometric forms, are constructed entirely of straight lines and right angles. The series seem to be executed in a systemic manner. The curator Lawrence Alloway described systemic painting by saying “form becomes meaningful, not because of ingenuity or surprise, but because of repetition and extension. The recurrent image is subject to continuous transformation, destruction and reconstruction; it requires to be read in time as well as in space. In style analysis we look for unity within variety" (2). For Morgan the systemic aspects can be seen through the method of construction. Within a consistent size Morgan organizes his compositions with a series of related shapes: squares, generally quadrants of the canvas, rectangles generally half of a quadrant, longer rectangular bars, most frequently as pairs linked in right angles binding the internal forms or creating tension between them, and punctuating squares or rectangles made from a corresponding measurement to his longer rectangular bars.
However, Morgan’s paintings distinguish themselves through the use of metallic paints in relationship to deep earth tones and blues. Morgan’s “intention is to capture the instant between the reflection and absorption of light, a perspective derived some years ago by Morgan while reading the Tao Te Ching”. In Morgan’s intention we can see his emphasis moving away from the compositional structure of conventional formalism towards the more profoundly physical experience of looking.
Such a large part of experiencing art seems to happen virtually via photography of the work and screens. Many aspects of the object are lost particularly the relationship between the surface and the light. Morgan’s works defy translation because their realization exists within the phenomenological experience of looking. The experience of viewing on a screen does not allow for the instance between absorption and reflection Morgan seeks. It is a more nuanced experience one that is intrinsically reliant on how the paintings relationship to external light and dependent on seeing in person. WM
1. Robert C. Morgan, Rene Pierre Alain: Formalism After Postmodernism, Rene Pierre Alain, Disjunctures, Galerie De Bellefuille, Montreal, 2000, pp. 7
2. Lawrence Alloway, Systemic Painting, Guggenheim, 1966, pp. 19
Isaac Aden is an artist and curator based in New York.view all articles from this author