Selected works by Ivan Morley

Ivan Morley
Tehachepi (Sic)


Oil, wax, KY Jelly, thread and dye on linen

145 x 135 cm

Morley’s choice of craft materials and techniques over traditional paint and canvas was originally a means of disengaging from the shadow of art history. Rather than avoiding subjects and styles that were widely dismissed as art forms he embraced them and found their properties matched the content and 3D presence he wanted to achieve. The act of making a stitch is also important as it represents a specific amount of time, an element that he wanted to make visible and offer to the viewer as an opportunity to trace the artist’s hand and physical experience in the final work. The use of pattern provided Morley a conduit through which to concentrate on instinctive decisions about colours and materials rather than dwell upon the compositional complexities of painting. In addition to these ostensibly conventional works of handicraft, Morley introduced KY Jelly, wax and oils that subvert the cutesy, homespun connotations of the finish. With an unconventional mix of materials and a painterly lyricism to their appearance, his works are not as disconnected from a contemporary painting as they might at first seem.

Ivan Morley
A True Tale


Thread on canvas

271.8 x 99.1 cm

”Calling a painting decorative used to be an insult, but I think it is profoundly radical”.

The subject of Ivan Morley’s A True Tale, 2006, is the personal profit of Peter Biggs, a Los Angeles ex-slave who, during the 19th century, "made a fortune shipping cats to San Francisco to help with their rat problem." Tehachepi, 2006, is based on a Tehachepi Indian family who salvaged bullets out of the sides of trees to get by. Instead of depicting these historical anecdotes as literal accounts, these two works are imbued with the artist’s emotional and psychological responses through his use of dark, heavy colours and hand-stitched cloth.

Ivan Morley
Tehachepi (sic)


Oil and cotton over aluminum panel

238.8 x 116.8 cm

Morley has expressed an innate interest in the subjects of the American Regionalist movement, such as rural life and their conscious rejection of European modernism, particularly drawing on the work of artists such as Edward Hopper and Grant Wood. In his paintings Morley reflects his own interest in regional history in the form of an emotional response, rejecting the notion that abstract painting should be emptied of reference to reality or narrative.

Text by Gemma de Cruz


January 18th, 2010, by Alice Gregory, IDIOM

Recently transplanted from Düsseldorf to TriBeCa, Dennis Kimmerich opened his new gallery, Kimmerich, on Thursday, January 14th with a show of paintings by Ivan Morley. Especially bright, with a 16-foot, pressed tin ceiling and hardwood floors, the space is far from Chelsea, in both geography and feel. Kimmerich spent months traversing downtown, block by block, until he found the qualities they were looking for. TriBeCa, with its various architectural styles and mixture of commercial and residential buildings – many of them historic – is perhaps a less homogenous destination than Chelsea. The neighborhood is famously home to many art collectors who can both look and buy close to home. With apexart just around the corner, Kimmerich is well-positioned in a burgeoning gallery neighborhood.
Kimmerich’s ambiance, redolent of a long-gone and much-mythologized SoHo, seems an appropriate setting for the paintings of Ivan Morley, an artist, who, in the past, has likened his work to “souvenirs of a fictional as well as an actual place.” His charged, symbolic images, often layered atop each other, evoke embellished memories and edited nightmares. Of the eight, multimedia paintings – hair, thread and leather sneak their way in – two are on fragmented, asymmetrical canvases, a chaotic, formal alteration to match the content.

The cumulative affect of Morley’s palette is unexpected. Matte and almost chalky, each color, taken on its own, is almost aggressively “classy”; they resemble the muted hues of designer house paint. But when paired, the combination is grimy, like an urban beach: graffitied and littered with trash. Morley outlines his forms with contrasting light and dark, a technique that lends a cartoonish quality to the self-consciously stoner-y images: birds of prey, beer steins, decapitated fat men.
It’s a time-worn fallacy to assume art that appears effortless is, that quick-looking gestures are. Some of Morley’s details seem to move preemptively to counter this assumption, leading one to wonder after Morley’s own assumptions for his audience. Swaths of tooled leather, strands of woven blond hair and patches of embroidery attempt to temper the paintings’ freneticism and immunize them to the charge of sloppiness.

In theory, lines so bold and images so hawkish require the intricacies of craft and delicacy for balance, but in person, the two visions frequently negate each other. Good “bad art” is arguably the most difficult to execute, perhaps the most ineffable of aesthetic talents. Like with any expression of methodical carelessness – artfully messy hair, unbuttoned dinner parties, casual diction – bad art can be very good or very bad. There’s little worse than bad art that strives to be good on its own ground and fails. Morley’s hesitations are what create the queasiness here, as he compensates for a risk he seems unwilling – or perhaps unable – to take.


April 26th, 2010, by Janet Koplos, Art In America

NEW YORK In his first New York outing, Los Angeles painter Ivan Morley, who has been showing in Santa Monica and in Europe for the last decade, offered his distinctive blend of palpability and palaver in eight works dated 2008 or ’09. The titles of these playfully inventive paintings, and the fact that they’re repeated, suggest that there is a narrative, even when the work is entirely abstract. For example, the show included two works called A True Tale. The one dated 2008 is a big vertical (103 by 39 inches) that, atypically, consists entirely of patches of machine-embroidered color on canvas, the threads wispy like dry brushstrokes at the edge of each color area. The one dated 2009 is a sizable horizontal with more sharply defined blocks as well as two patches of patterns, both with fruity-looking circles over landscape-like rectangles in a combination that recalls kitchen wallpaper. The materials here are still primarily thread on canvas, but the canvas is stretched over wood and the surface is embellished with oil paint, wax and KY Jelly.
Another repeated title is Tehachepi (sic). There were three of those, all with imagery that provokes curiosity but clarifies nothing. One features a masked obese woman, breasts exposed; another centers on a lobster. The third consists of a mushroom cloud made up of what look like purple intestines, tangles of yellow yarn and silver belt buckles (I’m guessing here), above which appear two foamy pitchers of beer and either a motorcycle cap or a German officer’s cap. The style falls somewhere between Goth comics and Max Beckmann. The materials contribute to the impact: this piece is painted with oil, wax and KY Jelly on tooled and dyed leather in an irregular shape that resembles a three-part folding screen. The title, a little Googling suggests, might be due to the fact that the California town of Tehachapi has spelled its name four ways, but what that has to do with the imagery remains an amusing mystery.
Morley also teases with text, as in the painting Collateral, where the words “Clyfford Still Real Estate” emerge from a muddled background, looking tangible and battered, like an old business sign in a cartoon. It turns out that understanding Collateral, as well as an irregular-shaped abstraction called Don, George, Diane and some other works, is enhanced by hints in a section of the artist’s website called Anecdotes. Although the anecdotes consist mostly of non sequitur sentences, they extend the sense that Morley is drawing upon whatever fascinates him—a story, a substance, an artist—and pulling elements together into painting/objects that maintain their own quirky identity but allow plenty of scope for the viewer’s participatory imagining. Morley is based in the land of Hollywood fantasy, yet his thinking seems shaped more by the Brothers Grimm.


By Meghan Dailey

Ivan Morley's paintings are inspired by the frontiersman's lore of scrappy, dried-out California towns with names like San Gabriel, El Monte, and Tehachapi. Such locales and their all-but-forgotten (and possibly artist-fabricated) histories--if you can call tales of memorable cockfights and observations on the behavior of squirrels histories-seem unlikely sources of inspiration.
Yet, from a mass of myth, a dose of his own vivid imagination, and a range of raw material, Morley has created some mighty idiosyncratic pictures. The show as a whole was pulled together with a keen sense of detail, with texts telling a few of the stories rendered carefully on the walls.
To create his paintings, Morley applies dyed fabric, wax, varnish, dense patches of colored thread, and, occasionally, oil paint to a range of supports that includes denim, glass, linen, and canvas. Sometimes he paints on glass, peels the image off, and affixes it to another support.
The textures and varying opacities of these surfaces contribute to the work's material diversity; we get blocky quiltlike patterns, floral motifs, and faux-naif, cartoonish illustrations on tie-dyed grounds. Slipped into the mix are some Indonesian-style batiks, which Morley says he learned about from LA stoner culture.