13th Dec 2019- 20th Feb 2020
Idris Khan and Annie Morris
Idris Khan and Annie Morris
For this their second exhibition at Galerie ISA and the inaugural show in the gallery’s new space, Idris Khan and Annie Morris have created a series of works inspired by the colour blue. Although at first an apparently simple premise for an exhibition, the artist couple are particularly engaged with colour and with how their various mediums transpose and transform according to the tone, hue, intensity and variety of pigment they are employing. The result is that adhering to the exploration of this evocative colour has become all encapsulating.
For both artists, this exhibition presents a challenge. For Khan it affords him the opportunity to expand upon the works he made for his recent New York show, ‘Blue Rhythms’, where he presented a series of photographic prints and wall-mounted reliefs of graphic pieces dominated by the colour blue. In that show and in this, Khan uses the intensity of the colour blue in order to create and play with narratives. His palimpsests of musical scores flirt with and forge connections: ‘blue moon’, singing the blues’ or ‘feeling blue’ all come to mind, while Khan’s glass work and blue/black stamp paintings also pay homage to the symbolic and historic nature of the colour blue - with certain pigments such as lapis lazuli evoking association with royalty and splendour, the celestial heavens, the Virgin Mary, spirituality and even with the void.
The colour theorist Itten and the Bauhaus school taught us to see colour in terms of temperature and shape. Blue belongs to winter or cool colours, and according to Kandinsky, who taught his Bauhaus students to associate specific colours with certain forms, blue is also synonymous with the circle. This way of thinking takes us into the realm - that of synesthesia. For those people who can use one sense to activate another,it becomes possible to hear, feel and even to taste colour. This has fascinating implications for how people might experience art. Even those without this condition can imagine how this might affect their engagement with an object, painting or photograph. Indeed thanks to our new found experiences with the virtual world thanks to smart phones and social media, this is becoming closer to reality.
In a country such as India where the scent of spices, riots of colour and a cacophony of sound assault the senses on a daily basis, it is not so hard to imagine how the rich hue of indigo might trigger an olfactory memory as well as absorbing the eye. In the brilliant light of Bombay, a rich blue on glass can sparkle like the most brilliant sapphire, and the result is enchanting. For this show at Galerie ISA, Khan has created something very special. An indigo coloured glass painting, which at 2x2.5m, is the largest scale piece the artist has produced to date in this medium. Striking a counter-balancing note of contemplation, Khan’s musical palimpsests take on a mesmeric quality in the context of an arena that allows for and encourages the repetition of hypnotic sounds.
Whereas Khan’s works journey into the territory of the psychology of colour, colour theory and utilise the science of colour, music and language as tools for the creation of a cooly beautiful, minimalist aesthetic,Morris’s works have a joyful, playful fecundity that perfectly balances Khan’s practice. Her totem-like stack sculptures of variously sized vividly coloured balls of pigment have rightly been described as ‘stacks of joy’. Yet Morris’s personal journey towards this body of work was born out of the pain of losing a baby. Stricken with grief, she took solace in her studio, making these round, egg like forms, first in drawings, until they took shape in plaster and pigment. Her take on the phallic totem is a decidedly feminine one, and a celebratory one too - reaching towards the sky in a joyful way but in a manner that doesn’t detract from the fragile nature of the uniquely placed combination of balls.
Now though, in addition to her colourful spheres, Morris has also focused on creating a stack in one colour - in this case echoing the rich intensity of Yvette Klein’s blue or the deep hue of Paul Sinoir’s Cubist villa in the midst of Marrakech’s Majorelle gardens (later lovingly restored to their former greatness by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé). Morris has always been drawn by colour and the psychologically affecting nature of different pigments, but she has also always been fascinated by the line. Indeed the line is something that has always underpinned her practice - be it in the form of drawings, tapestries or even in metal where, taking the lead from abstract expressionist sculptors such as David Smith, Morris has used the bold and simple nature of metal to create shapes which outline and frame the embodiment of the fecund female body.
Back in London, Khan and Morris share a space which is divided into two separate studios but joined by a communal area. This exhibition provides a rare and privileged insight into how these two distinctly different artists think and work, but also how their separate practices engage with and inspire the other. Both are united by their investigations into colour and by a deep understanding of how the felt, the haptic and the imagined can affect the mind. For Khan and Morris it is as important to consider the role of the invisible as well as the visible. It is the presence of the shadow, the reverberations of colour, sound and memory that persist and can transform our understanding of art, as much as a direct physical encounter with a bold image that engage them. In a sense both artists are working towards the sublime but from their own unique perspectives. Where they cross over is both a point of entry for this exhibition but so and an embarkation towards a deeper engagement with colour and with our sensorial reading of art and human experience.