Simon Morley has recently exhibited in Tokyo, Amsterdam and Bologna. He is also an established theorist, who is the author of,among other publications, The Writing On The Wall: Word and Image in Modern Art (Thames & Hudson 2003/7). In this first solo show at Art First, Morley explores the rich cultural history of the English language, and the manner in which the English are considered - both internally and internationally.
This exhibition shows recent works from The English Series, Morley's on-going project involving the depiction of books whose titles contain the word English. Morley explores how the word English was used and understood previously rather than today. This is deliberately nostalgic, even apparently elegiac, but it carries a critical and ironic edge.
The covers and title pages of books produced in the 1940s and 1950s are the inspiration for a series of semi-monochrome paintings. Colour is subdued and autumnal, as befits the subject. The focus is on the Churchillian era, and the centre-piece is four paintings using as their source the first edition title pages of the four volumes of Churchill's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, published between 1956 and 1958 but mostly written before World War II. Alongside there is a group of 14 smaller paintings based on the 1940s William Collins series Britain in Pictures. There is also a number of works on paper. One employs 50 pages from a Penguin anthology of English poetry and another old English postcards superimposed with lines by Rupert Brooke. Another work features lines from Derek Jarman's film Last of England inscribed on pebbles from Dungerness beach. A video featuring a distant M25 motorway at night is also exhibited.
Morley evokes a strong sense of absence. His focus is on ways word and image set up a force-field between the sensual presence of the artwork and memories that are re-called, re-framed and complicated by the presentation of the specific subject-matter. He pictures absence in presence, interpretable in both a physical and psychological sense.