Abandoned Reality: a Review of Screenprints by Mark Andrew Morris at Fourth Coast

by Angela Frakes

Walking into Fourth Coast, a café open twenty-four hours a day, one would not immediately notice that there is an art show currently installed. The overall aesthetic of the café is not disturbed by the twelve screenprints hanging around the room in simple frames. [1] Local artist and musician Mark Andrew Morris’ show entitled Sleep Will Come, open through June, initially seems to be an understated series of simple prints made for the space.  The pieces are accompanied very minimally by a stack of business cards with the artist’s name and email address, as well as a small list of prices. However, when the visitor acclimates to the space and is able to inspect the images with more attention, the screenprints become objects that push the viewer to contemplate what other universe solitude and sleep might transport us to—through the juxtaposition of banal objects and a surrealist aesthetic.

Morris’ screenprints are very cleanly rendered and simple, and in some ways reminiscent of cartoons. He uses very few screens for each image; the most he incorporates is five. This means that the images comprise at most six colors (including the paper beneath). One of the reasons that the pieces blend in so well with the space is because he uses the same color scheme as the café walls – light teal, pale yellow, orange-y salmon, agave – even referencing a section of exposed brick. The cartoonish, “wall art” quality of this work could make it easily ignored since it could be mistaken as purely decorative. This work might, unfortunately, lose a lot of its meaning if it were hung in a gallery space or museum. It is too closely tied to the fact that it is in a coffee shop, visible twenty-four hours a day. Contemplating the images, however, the viewer is able to consider the function of sleep and its implications, in dreams and alternative realities.

I would like to consider briefly this work in the context of Christine Ross’ theories on contemporary art and depression in The Aesthetics of Disengagement. In this book she discusses the implications of depression upon contemporary art, and contemporary art upon the viewer in a state of depression. She categorizes part of this relationship as disengagement, where art “enact[s] depression … discursively, structurally, formally, and symptomatically.” [2] In Morris’ work I see this idea of disengagement accentuated in the lack of human presence and absence of consciousness, played out in the clean lines and mundane objects. Formally, his compositions are sparse and the medium renders the objects represented cartoonish and far from realistic. Symptomatically, Morris’ work provides images of depressive states, which could mean fatigue, loneliness, or abandonment, through its formal qualities and its subject matter. This displaces the viewer as a disengaged element, removed from the surreal imagery because the lack of human presence is so prominent.

 

Mark Andrew Morris, The Clock Strikes Three. Two screenprints. Photo by Angela Frakes.

The subject matter of the pieces varies: a bed in a warped room; a door ajar; a leaf-blower disconnected from a power outlet and seemingly alive; broken eggshells; an empty parking lot. There is a sense of abandonment and a very prominent feeling of a dreamlike state, whether it be sleep-induced or in death, fantasy or reality. The presence of humans is clear since he draws mostly man-made objects and spaces, but the lack of human presence is accentuated since the objects, left alone, seem to come to life. The monochrome The Clock Strikes Three shows a room devoid of furniture with a large clock on the wall. The lack of human presence is striking, since without a sign of human activity there is no way to assign meaning to the fact that it is 3:00. Is it 3:00 in the morning? Is it in the middle of the afternoon? Morris does not give any visual cues, playing with the idea that lack of human presence emphasizes the surreality of a scene and the autonomy of the objects within it.

The theme of time is carried on through the piece 2:45 AM, which is simply an unmade bed on a floor that is warped in waves. 2:45 AM is certainly a time when one should be sleeping; however, unlike many other public venues with art on display, Fourth Coast is open through the night. Therefore it is entirely possible that someone would see this piece at 2:45 AM. For this reason, this entire series, Sleep Will Come, fits this space well. A variety of people will see the pieces in different states of mind. Grabbing coffee to wake up in the early morning, eating breakfast or lunch later in the day, staying up all night to study while your roommate is sleeping. The dreamlike, surreal quality of 2:45 AM is carried throughout the show, with emphasis on the banal and mundane aspects of life that might come to life in certain situations, in sleep or in fatigue; in loneliness or solitude; in reality or not.

Mark Andrew Morris, Installation view of 2:45 AM (left) and Eggshells (right). Screenprints. Photo by Angela Frakes.

 

In using banal objects in his prints that seem to blend in with the space, Morris provides an outlet for the observant coffee shop visitor to contemplate the reason why she is in the space. The title, Sleep Will Come, is reassuring but also daunting; especially when paired with some haunting images that recall nightmares, uncomfortable fatigue, or insomnia. The abandonment and disengagement so prominent in the images is evident not just in the subject matter but also in the entire context of the show within the coffee shop, and it serves to create a space where the state of sleep is distant but tangible.

 

Notes:

[1] Keeney Swearer gives an interesting analysis of coffee shop art in his essay titled “Presentation in Alternative Gallery Spaces.” comment with a K, 7 May 2012, https://commentwithak.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/presentation-in-alternative-gallery-spaces/.

[2] Christine Ross, The Aesthetics of Disengagement: Contemporary Art and Depression (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 2006), xviii.

 

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