Jeffrey Morin

University Art Gallery
University of Tennessee-Chattanooga
Chattanooga, Tennessee

By Gavin Towsend, Art Papers, May & June, 1990

One happy manifestation of postmodern art is returned to the naturalistic study and rendition of the human nude. For Jeffrey Morin, the human figure, divested of clothing, is the focus for nearly all of his prints and paintings. This is not surprising considering that Morin is the product of the Tyler School of Art, well known for its rigorous life study programs. Morin’s current exhibition consists of eleven large monotypes, each executed and black ink on white deckle paper, and accented with ink wash. Each print is cleverly mounted on a background of paper that has been inked in black and hand-rubbed to a gray finish.

With one exception, the subjects of prints are two young adult nudes, one male and one female. The positions of the figures are intimate, though the atmosphere here is tender rather than erotic. Indeed the mood of these monotypes the somber. This shows not only in the generally static positions of the figures themselves but in the pervasive blackness, a great swirling blackness, that seems to engulf them. One is reminded of the tragic lovers swept up in William Blake’s prints of Paolo and Francesca or Oscar Kokoschka’s The Tempest.

The sense of melancholy is emphasized by expressionlessness of the models. There is a Classic Greek Stoicism to these figures. They are dignified and self-absorbed, ideal figures instead of specific individuals. They are also large in scale, situated in the foreground, close to the viewer. But despite this proximity (and this too seems Greek) we are not acknowledged by the couple. There is curious sense of being invited into the space, but not welcomed. Are we viewers or voyeurs?

Whatever the Hellenic qualities, though, the positions of the figures are anything other than classic. In Warm Twist the male limply arcs his body over the crouching female. In Carriage, the male grasps the woman from behind, her knees to her chest, his arms about her calves. Despite how this may sound, the images convey a sense of two bodies lyrically intertwined without any feeling of male/female domination. Some of the poses to border of some sentimental; in When will I Lose You the male is doubled over in a position of emotional exhaustion, while the female kneels at his side, gently resting one reassuring arm on his back.

The many unorthodox body positions seen in Morin’s prints are derived from compositions found in his photographs of models. One of Morin’s models (the female) is a professional dancer, and the artist himself has been involved recently in avant-garde dance productions. In these productions, as in his photographs and prints, Morin is concerned with the poetics of human weight distribution. Perhaps this explains why some of his compositions, like Weight and Disregard seem more choreographed than posed.

Although Morin basically renders his models naturalistically, he likes to flirt with abstraction. In Fall From Grace his contrast of lights and darks is so extreme that it is difficult to determine whether we are looking downward on the models or from the side. Limbs are severed by the shadows. In Discussion faces are rendered with broad black smudges and kneecaps are foreshortened to monstrous proportions. Such abstractions appear as games though, expressionistic experiments, in the work of an artist was clearly an heir to the tradition of anatomical accuracy.