Annie Morris transforms grief into colorful and precarious sculptures

Art

Charlotte Janson

Annie Morris, installation view of the Oscar Niemeyer pavilion at Château La Coste, 2022. Photo by Stéphane Aboudaram | WE ARE CONTENT. Courtesy of Château La Coste.

Annie Morris, installation view at Château La Coste, 2022. Photo by Stéphane Aboudaram | WE ARE CONTENT. Courtesy of Château La Coste.

An ice cream shop appears at the end of the road leading to Annie Morris’ studio in North London. In the summer, it attracts long lines of patrons, who emerge holding wobbling cones with brightly colored globes. Sooner or later, someone’s treat tips over and falls: contained in every moment of ecstasy is the potential for loss and despair.

Morris perfectly captures this feeling through her drawings, yarn-based works and sculptures (for which she is best known). Although the British artist is inspired by her own traumas, she evokes universal feelings of fragility and fears that happiness will be disrupted. “I think so many artists find their best work through tragedy,” Morris said. “I have a friend who says, ‘Don’t be happy, you’ll never do anything good!'”

Portrait of Annie Morris at Château La Coste, 2022. Photo by Idris Khan.

The artist walked in continuous circles around an army of his dizzying “Stack” sculptures, which fill his studio – a former hummus factory in Stoke Newington. To make the sculptures, she sculpts rough foam spheres, layers them with sand and plaster (and, more recently, bronze), and finally paints them in lucid colors. Morris then seamlessly “stacks” the balls at different heights and joins them invisibly with steel. This final stage creates the illusion of a balancing act, making its monumental structures appear as precarious as a pile of children’s building blocks.

Morris had just returned from the opening of his latest solo exhibition at Château La Coste in Aix-en-Provence, France. The exhibition features new bronze and foam sculptures, oil stick drawings and a new monumental tapestry. They are all on display in and around the Oscar Niemeyer-designed pavilion of the contemporary art center. Overall, Morris’ sensual pieces generate dialogues of color, form, light and space in the clean, curved glass and straight, concrete lines of Niemeyer’s architecture.

Annie Morris, installation view of the Oscar Niemeyer pavilion at Château La Coste, 2022. Photo by Stéphane Aboudaram | WE ARE CONTENT. Courtesy of Château La Coste.

At first glance, Morris’ works exude a provocative and jubilant sense of optimism. They vibrate with life. Yet the artist began creating her signature “Stacks” nearly a decade ago, their spherical shapes echoing the pregnancy shape she lost in 2014. Morris applies raw pigments to them, creating intense and undeniably uplifting hues. Her color combinations, she says, derive from intuition, experimentation and play.

Over the years the ‘Stacks’ have become more lively and realistic in form, more ambitious in scale and structure: in the gardens of Château La Coste, Morris has permanently installed his largest bronze to date. For this new work, she wanted to keep the bright colors of the raw pigments she used with her foam spheres. To achieve this goal, she burned natural sulfates and nitrates on her bronze surfaces. Its bulky six-foot-tall tower now sways brilliantly against the backdrop of the French countryside.

Morris refers to his “Stacks” as “characters”. She noted, “When I’m around them in the studio, they definitely have conversations with each other.” Morris began to introduce them in pairs to amplify their joyful connections and exchanges. As they seem to dance drunkenly towards the sky, they demonstrate their figurative essence.

Annie Morris, installation view at Château La Coste, 2022. Photo by Stéphane Aboudaram | WE ARE CONTENT. Courtesy of Château La Coste.

However, the genesis of the pieces remains “extremely important” for the artist, because “the overwhelming experience has defined it”. “As I go through life and create these sculptures, it’s a way of remembering this thing that’s been lost – it’s very heartwarming in a way,” Morris said. “I think continuing to do them still interests me because of that, because it’s still so relevant to me to keep that part of me alive.”

After his first institutional solo exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, “When a Happy Thing Falls”, and his participation in Frieze Sculpture last year, Morris’ exhibition in France is also a return to the sources for “Stack” sculptures in particular. The artist trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris for five years, refining the bases of her practice of sculpture under the tutelage of the pioneer of Arte Povera Giuseppe Penone. “The school was amazing, it was mostly about trying things out, playing with materials – it was really hands-on,” Morris said.

At the time, Morris mainly made oversized sculptures of owls. She was fascinated by their shape and made one out of red clay with Penone. Morris also threw raw pigments – rudimentary sepia tones made with dozens of crushed crayons – onto the canvas, which were better suited to her budget as an art student than the lush, breathtaking shades of cobalt and turquoise she now uses. regularly.

When the artist returned to the UK to continue her studies at the Slade, she briefly abandoned her experiments with raw pigments, only returning to strategy when she began making the “Stacks”. “I wanted to retain the fragility of this beautiful texture, this dryness, this fragility that you get from this raw pigment,” she said.

France is also a part-time home for Morris; her husband, fellow artist and frequent collaborator Idris Khan (the two plan to hold a double exhibition next year); and their two children. Ten years ago the couple started renovating an old farmhouse and barn overlooking a vineyard in Bergerac, Dordogne, with a studio in a former chai. “It’s really part of the landscape there, you notice how the long grass turns bright red in early August,” Morris said. His color ideas and their combinations often come from this rural setting, or from around Sussex in the English countryside, where Morris and his family spend many weekends. Morris sees herself as part of a trajectory of artists – she mentions Robert Rauschenberg and Antoni Tàpies – who distill color and composition into their simplest forms and turn them into independent, powerfully emotive forces.

Always interested in exploring the space “somewhere between painting and sculpture”, Morris’ works are all rooted in the spontaneous and rapid preparatory sketches and drawings she makes with materials ranging from ballpoint pen to colored pencils. through the oil stick. Every day at the studio starts with drawing. Twelve of Morris’ drawings are now on display at Château La Coste. Their fluid and bouncy lines evoke the paintings of Philip Guston or the drawings of Willem de Kooning.

Annie Morris, installation view of the Oscar Niemeyer pavilion at Château La Coste, 2022. Photo by Stéphane Aboudaram | WE ARE CONTENT. Courtesy of Château La Coste.

Morris’s impromptu, fluid energy pours into his exuberant sculptures and playful tapestries; a central piece of the new exhibition is a large semi-abstract hand-embroidered piece titled Red Road (2022)—his largest and most ambitious tapestry to date. “It was incredibly time consuming despite coming from an extremely fast and spontaneous drawing, but I wasn’t even sure I’d finish it in time! she says.

Red Road features surreal, expressionless female figures with flowers where faces should be. The composition is a kind of double portrait, based on the artist and his mother. The sculptural lines of the thread itself bring the tapestry to life. It documents a “sad incident involving my parents,” Morris said. She wanted to convey the feeling that “flowers are so temporary – their beauty exists for such a short time, then it breaks down and disappears. I love the fact that in the drawings the emotion within the female figure is conveyed through the withered petals.

Annie Morris, installation view of the Oscar Niemeyer pavilion at Château La Coste, 2022. Photo by Stéphane Aboudaram | WE ARE CONTENT. Courtesy of Château La Coste.

Like the waiters at the ice cream parlor, who bring smiles to faces all summer long with their piles of melting sugar, Morris is uniquely good at turning painful moments into experiences that “evoke hope and energy to heal, inspire and uplift people.” ‘soul’, as Georgina Cohen, Gagosian director and curator of the exhibition at Château La Coste, put it.

“When you go through something huge, you find out what’s inside you,” Morris said. “We were born and we are here for so little time, everything passes so quickly. We all experience grief, it’s all around us – it’s hard to close our eyes to it, it’s there, hovering in front of you – we try to ward it off but we have to deal with it. I wanted to create something that was the opposite – a world, a journey that takes you away from that.