Spotlight artist Jennifer Morrison

Debut Contemporary is pleased to announce the launch of a solo exhibition by South African-born London based artist, Jennifer Morrison, which opens for public on 17th June 2015 with a VIP Private View and closes on 22th June 2015. Morrison’s work deals predominantly with colour and shape. She uses these elements to explore juxtaposition, repetition, movement and rhythm. Although she has lived in London for two decades, the colours of South Africa have never left her and remain a central influence in her work. In this interview, Jennifer Morrison reveals herself and shares her thoughts with us on her upcoming exhibition named ‘Spring’.


1. Your work is very colorful. What is the meaning of colours in your paintings? Do they have a deep significance or are they just enchanting us aesthetically?

This question of meaning is an interesting one. We are designed to find meaning in things but I’m not interested in a single reading of my work. I like the fact that they may be incomprehensible. My work is devoid of content or meaning, apart from that which is attributed to it by the viewer. The colours in my work do not have any symbolic significance. I have no interest in ascribing particular meanings to particular colours. They have a significance to me in the sense that different colours evoke various emotions and thoughts and memories. The medium is, for me, the subject and a means of expression. You use the word ‘just’ in your second question. If I enchant that is great but your word ‘just’ implies that to be concerned with purely aesthetic matters is somehow less worthy or significant or perhaps less important or serious than work which contains content of some kind. I of course, would disagree! My work may enchant aesthetically but it may also challenge or repel or frustrate.

2. Artists are always looking for new sources of inspiration. Where do you find new ideas for your work?

I’m often asked this and it’s a difficult question to answer because my answer is everything and anything. What I can say is that it is almost always seeing two or more colours beside each other which I find exciting or beautiful or interesting. London skies are so often changing with the most beautiful greys. A red bus passes and this combination can inspire me. These combinations are everywhere and sometimes I’m so excited by a passing glimpse of a juxtaposition of colours that I can’t wait to get to the studio.

3. Even though you have lived in London for 2 decades, you are still inspired by Africa. What is the relation between you, your work and Africa?

Well I’m inspired by South Africa. Africa is a big place and I only know a small part of it. I think that the country in which you grow up has a profound influence on you. The first twenty years of my life were spent growing up in Durban which has a sub-tropical climate and is very lush and warm and humid. It’s a coastal city with reddish earth, rich greens in its foliage, blue skies and sea breezes. It has a wonderful confluence of Zulu, Indian (both Hindu and Muslim) and English colonial culture, architecture, cuisine etc. I’m lucky enough to travel to South Africa four or five times a year so I have been able to keep close ties with the country. Although South Africa was my first and deepest influence, twenty years of living in London has also impacted on my work and my thinking.

4. Recently, you had a solo exhibition at Graham’s Fine Art Gallery in Johannesburg. How did the public receive your work?

The exhibition has been very well received. I had a great turn out at the opening night and I’m told that people are visiting the show and giving good feedback to the gallery. The show is on until mid-April so I guess I will be able to assess it all a little more when it’s over. It has been a wonderful experience for me to have had such a large solo show at such a significant South African gallery.

5. Most of your artworks are based on juxtaposition, repetition, movement and rhythm. How important do you think it is for an artist to handle different skills?

If you mean by skills, something like being able to draw or being able to work in different mediums, I think that it is preferable if an artist is able to draw and has some experience working with a variety of materials. There are always exceptions to the rule but it seems to me, especially as an abstract painter, that you have to know what you’re abstracting from. If you have no clue about drawing or composition or what happens when you mix two colours together then you’re building a house on sand, as it were.

Amphibious IAmphibious II

6. Some of your artworks are built around opposites like accident and deliberation or control and abandon. How are these concepts to be expressed in visual art?

There are many ways in which these concepts could be expressed in visual art but I can only try to answer how I express them in my own work, although that’s not easy. For me, when I’m painting, there is an ebb and flow of taking risks, allowing mistakes to happen and controlling and directing. In a way it’s a bit like looking after a garden. If you allow nature to take over entirely you will end up with a jungle. You might prefer to have a very strict control and vigilance, striving for a formal garden with trimmed hedges and so on. Gardeners are continually making judgements about how much to impose and control and how much to relinquish to nature. It’s a kind of balancing act. Sometimes I want a wild jungle and sometimes I want trimmed hedges and sometimes I want both together! This tension has always fascinated me on many levels: the contest between order and chaos both within and without.

7. Jennifer, your forthcoming exhibition entitled ‘Spring’ is around the corner. How did the exhibition title come about?

I chose the title ‘Spring’ because I liked the play on meaning. It can be taken to describe the season we’re in but it can also be understood to mean something that leaps, that is full of energy, that is elastic.

8. What’s your latest art collection about and how did it get inspired?

This series is a continuations of my previous work but these recent works are inspired by the season of spring in the UK. They are about trying to distill the qualities found in grey skies and lime green leaves, the burst of colour in the plants and the squally rainshowers. Alongside this is an inner dialogue that is continually fascinated by the poetry of colour and the arrangement of colour and shape on a flat surface.

9. Your career has taken a great new direction in the past year with a major solo at Graham’s Fine Art in SA this year and now in London at Debut Contemporary?

What’s been the main contributor to this development and success? I think that it has been a marriage of hard work, luck, meeting people who have shown great belief in me and reaching a stage in my painting career where I feel a certain sense of confidence. I think it is a confluence of many things.

10. What defines success for you on personal and professional level?

Success for me, on a professional level, is when I make work that I’m happy to show to the world and that pleases and surprises me. When people show up to look at it and discuss it and even to buy it that is an even greater level of success. On a personal level, if I am healthy, both mentally and physically, and have the love and company of my family and friends and cat, and have new projects and choices open to me then I consider my life to be a success.

Blossom 1Blossom 2               70 cm x 70 cm



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