[Exhibition review in C Magazine, Summer 1997.]
David Morrow, Aimless Paintings
Kant defines the quality of beauty in opposition to that of the sublime. Where beauty is bounded and shaped, the sublime is shapeless, boundless. While beauty calms and comforts, the sublime excites and agitates. And while beauty gives us pleasure, "the object is received as sublime with a pleasure that is only possible through the mediation of displeasure."
David Morrow's Aimless Paintings parody the moment when the beautiful meets the sublime. Aimless Paintings is a series of fifteen oils, all of the same size, all of the same subject: a blimp floating through clouds. Each canvas is overwhelmingly blue. White cumulus clouds almost cover the bottom of the canvas, but dissipate so the top two-thirds of every canvas is pure sky, boundless and cloudless, apparently beyond weather. And navigating its way through the clouds is a single tiny blimp carrying a single tiny word: "oh," or "um." The paintings are both beautiful and sublime. They are also intensely whimsical — a small, gentle joke slightly overwhelmed by the encroaching sublime. (Or, an intrepid joke encroaching upon the sublime.) In them the corporate advertising blimp instead broadcasts personal thoughts like some cartoon thought-bubble. This thought-bubble has nothing to say, but merely shrugs and acknowledges a low-level anxiety of unspecified origins.
It is these anxiously whimsical balloons that, though very tiny and lighter than air, weigh down the paintings. The blimps are like little tumescent egos floating effortlessly through the empty infinite and confidently advertising their own ambivalence. After all, how can one navigate through the endless blue skies without a decisive plan? But, if the sky goes on forever — as far as the eye can see — and is the same constant blue, any sense of a consciously directed navigation would be futile, beside the point.
These paintings, for all their beauty and whimsy, do not open up a meditative space for contemplation. Instead they quietly agitate the viewer.
Following Kant, Lacan also wrote about the sublime. For him the sublime object was an object raised to the level of an impossible-real Thing. That is: a sensual, empirical object raised to the level of the transcendent, trans-phenomenal Thing-in-itself. The power (and paradox) of the sublime results from the insurmountable gap between the empirical object and the unrepresentable, suprasensible Thing. Morrow's joke — and the humour comes across whether or not we have ever heard of Kant or Lacan — is that he parodies the sublime by inserting his mock sublime objects, the blimps.