Et in Arcadia Ego
‘This dread and darkness of the mind cannot be dispelled by the sunbeams, the shining shafts of the day, but only by the understanding of the outward form and inner workings of nature’. 
Nature, for Lucretius, was a deceptive and intricate force that was intrinsically linked to that of mankind. Behind nature’s façade there are complex, and often cruel, characteristics that cannot be seen, which constitutes the heart of all things, grotesque and beautiful alike. For this exhibition, Haematoxyon, Paul Morrison explores this dichotomy, and in itself the duplicitous character of the natural landscape, which might be said to resonate, within us all.
The title, Haematoxylon, is a botanical term that describes the genus of a thorny tree. The wood is red, known as ‘blood wood’. Like all Morrison’s titles there is a dialogue between science and botany, the by-product of which, occupies a very different terrain, a terrain that manipulates and ciphers our understanding of nature. For mankind’s relationship with landscape is a primordial one, rich with mystical, metaphorical, spiritual and allegorical associations. Visions of nature are often loaded equally with memory and myth, from the biblical tree of life in the Garden of Eden to Nordic tree worship. Landscape is often described as the depiction of the human encounter with nature; it has been portrayed countless times the ‘sublime’ inspiration, such as depicted by Casper David Friedrich’s romantic paintings of pastoral landscapes. Friedrich portrays nature as the ultimate source of inspiration and resurrection. Similarly, in recent debates nature is intertwined with culture and imagination. As ‘landscapes are culture before they are nature; constructs of the imagination projected onto wood, water and rock’, so it is clear that ‘scenery is built up as much from the strata of memory as from layers of rock.  In this exhibition Morrison’s monochrome site-specific wall paintings, paintings and film contain identifiable images of the countryside, but one devoid of colour. These scenes are immediately recognisable, yet unfamiliar, stark and unsettling. The blood red of the title, Haematoxylon provokes us to colour the work, which then becomes chilling and poetic projections of an unknown elsewhere.
In the 21st century painting is no longer a purely formal project within a cultural and historical framework. The heralded apparent death of painting from critics such as Yves-Alain Bois to Arthur Danto argue that the immediacy of current technologies have eclipsed the act of painting itself. Yet this critical discourse only serves its rebirth. ‘In fact’, as Douglas Fogle said ‘painting has never gone away, like a virus exposed to an antibiotic, it has mutated, imprinted its genetic code on an entire new generation of descendants’.  In spite of its recurrent and premature obituary painting has been re-claimed by successive generations. Paul Morrison’s work is part of this reclamation as he questions the status of representation, and underlying this proposes affirmation of the validity of painting. Morrison claims a space that debates the most traditional of techniques with both contemporary and historical references; from animation from Disney’s Fantasia, Hello Kitty, Black Sabbath, to Italian Renaissance architectural techniques. This implies a sophisticated and cultural apportion of symbols and styles.
History tells of lands being taken, exploited and cultivated, all by the deeds of man. Paul Morrison’s countrysides are devoid of human presence with no indications of time or place. They remain dark and unknown. The strangely, seductive immediacy of the landscape is seen in Feld, 1998 and Protoplasm, 1999, draws us, unconsciously, into his depicted reality. Morrison’s flat hard-edged style underscores the paintings. In Protoplasm, we are invited, on first glance, into the open space of country but certainty gives way to uncertainty, as a fence obstructs us from entering the foreground. We wish to enter, but the scene is inaccessible to us, it frustrates our original intentions. The device of the fence frames our view of the landscape. Through the fence is a solitary tree in a white silhouette against a black sky; the effect is iconic. The recurring ecology of motifs within the painting provides a pictorial world that preserves a multiplicity of codes and images. In Set, 2001, the work is extreme in the close up, the motif of the giant cartoon flower, stridently lowered in the foreground, the spider’s web, tightly spinning and containing the canvas. The formal composition is then interspersed with trees and other foliage. The unique perspective of this work forces us to be trapped, as if we had fallen and were looking up, and all that could be seen was the web, with the trees, as we struggle to find an equilibrium. Therefore the coded language of the motifs; from the daisy to the spider’s web transfer these paintings into a series of investigations. Disembodied curves and cartoon imagery unifies the canvas as he creates a stylistic code that diffidently resists facile readings, for Morrison adopts the deft game of concealment and veiling. Morrison’s immaculate technique and juxtaposition of scale recall a graphic style akin to that of Roy Lichtenstein’s conceptual strategy of combining craftsmanship with technological innovation.
Foliage and floral life proliferate in these works, but only against a backdrop of suggested inertia and death. The air seems stagnant and suffocating. Is it a silent invitation or a perverse warning? One is reminded of Arthur Schopenhauer’s merciless impression of the natural world: ‘For wherever a living things breathes,’ he said, ‘another has at once appeared for the purpose of devouring it’.  Through this language of landscape, Morrison plugs into our deep seated fears and fantasies. Texture and pattern are also integral elements of the paintings, from the detail of the grain of wood in the fence to the elegant silhouettes of brambles and ferns. Morrison’s motifs are ripe with metaphorical potential, but are also realistic, as Morrison meticulously and beautifully records the surface of the wood grain on the fence. This is reminiscent of John Wesley, the American painter whose intensely observed abstract-figurative paintings of American everyday life incorporated many pictorial strategies. Wesley developed an oeuvre that avoids easy categorisation; initially he was considered in alignment with pop artists of the early 1960s as he used materials like tracing paper and stock photographs that were commonly associated with early advertising production yet his work has an enigmatic quality that makes it hard to categorise. The painting entitled Yellow Couch (1986) retains many of the qualities that his work has had since the early 1970s, such as the cartoon flatness, the pastel colour palette and the precisely defined lines. It is an observation of a sofa in a suburban sitting room with the backdrop of the outside garden. The ordinariness of this room grows more oppressive and ambiguous on each viewing. The linear patterns and block colours on cushions covers and the sofa are in fact the repeated contours of the trees and plants of the garden. It is as if the natural landscape had wildly overgrown and creeped ominously into the domestic realm. This painting can be seen as a narrative tableaux as Wesley portrays the canvas as a painted cinematic ‘frame’; the seeming simplicity in fact intensifies the scene that in turn invites us into it as a voyeur. Morrison, like Wesley, invites us to re-think our relationship to painting as a medium; they delight in conveying the subtle shifts in scale and placement without revealing the pathos that lies beneath.
Compellingly, both artists utilise the resonance of reduction which serves to heighten the tension of the painting. Morrison taps into hidden icons to suggest a range of emotions. In Sphere 1998/9 the work is simplified through the use of elemental lines and eloquent intricate patterns. Here Morrison reinterprets the primordial message that echoes with the unique signatures of the natural world. For his critique of the countryside which teems with dandelions, daisies and trees, Morrison evokes physical solitude, explicit in tone and atmosphere. Nature is ambiguous, it is also seen as a place of untold pleasures, and this place has often been depicted as Arcadia. The term Arcadia refers to an imaginary and paradisal place. Even in this paradise, mankind has been questioned. It has been depicted by a number of artists including Nicolas Poussin, where it connotes a pastoral idyll enjoyed and lost. Poussin’s painting entitled Et in Arcadia Ego, 1639 , is derived from a classical motto. This phrase is also ambiguous, and translates as ‘and ‘I’ too was in Arcadia’ or ‘and I ‘death’ too am in Arcadia’. Both translations are contemplations on man’s relationship with nature, suffice to say, that we have discovered a green and pleasant land, but ultimately it is only transitory. Paul Morrison depicts a similarly beautiful arcadia, one that vividly conveys the cycle of life and death and Morrison explores his own legacy of landscape.
The exhibition Haematoxylon also shows Morrison’s command of architectural space. The use of the architecture of space can be traced back to the Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna. Mantegna’s The Dead Christ (c.1480-90) portrays Christ, in the centre of the picture plane, where he is lying down on a bed, his head gently fallen to one side. Two female mourners flank Christ on the right. This painting has a unique cinematic perspective as it accentuates the ‘close up’ of the scene before us. Mantegna breaks with tradition by creating radical perspective which heightens the fact that we, the viewers, are gazing at this scene and are implicated by it. This enforced space implies an emotional attachment. Likewise, Morrison applies these methods of perspective to reveal endless symbolic spaces. In Xylem, 1999, the foreshortening of composition acts as amplification to a contemplative mood and unifies our relationship with the scene. His acute awareness of space and the symbolical positioning of the viewer may recall both fairytale and the rebellious impulses behind wanting to remain.
Ultimately, Haematoxylon, investigates the enigmatic character of the natural world. Morrison prescribes a propaedeutic relationship between science and art, and invites us to look beyond the optical composition of nature. Paul Morrison skilfully subverts and constructs a new language of landscape. Morrison is a masterful narrator who makes us re-think our relationship to nature. That is to say, whether we can really understand the inner workings of the natural world? Can we begin to understand its power of endurance in the face of our own finitude?
‘Where palaces are buried in the dust and the tombs of kings are hidden under the brambles.
O strength of nature, and weakness of men!
A blade of grass can pierce the hardest marble of these tombs, while all the dead, so powerful, shall never raise their weight!’ 
As we view these landscapes, through the nocturnal pastures there are histories unseen; blood flowed from battles or crimes unspoken. His paintings are concerned with eternal issues of resistance and struggle, transience and growth, life and death. Not only do Paul Morrison’s extraordinarily beautiful paintings examine the heart of nature’s darkest mysteries, but also, the phenomena of life itself.
 Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe. Penguin Classics reprint 1971.
 Simon Schama recent comments link nature to that of myth and mankind, Landscape and Memory, Pg 7, Fontana Press 1996.
 Douglas Fogle, Painting at the Edge of the World, Distributed Art Publishers, p18.
 Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Will in Nature, Translated by Payne, 1856, p58.
 Et in Arcadia Ego is a classical Latin phrase sourced from Virgil’s Fifth Eclogue. The translation can be read as ‘Even in Arcady, I, death exists’.
 Francois-Rene Chateaubriand, ‘Rene’ (1802, p99).