The representational boat paintings that Ali Morgan showed in 2003 at the North House Gallery excited interest and admiration for the extraordinary skill of her painting, although such work was not particularly encouraged on the degree course that she was attending in Colchester. In her final year she jumped through some major conceptual hoops to produce huge assemblages made from wrecked fishing boats. As she explains below, these have travelled with her to Cornwall and back, and now, still more distressed, they have been reassembled and are feeding back into her painting, a series of studies of the forms of varying degrees of abstraction with the shock of some realistic detail appearing here and there. The sculpture and the paintings are on show together. There are, in addition, three new boat paintings in her earlier style and some affectionate portraits of Mersea fishermen.
In my work I am mainly interested in past histories, stories of craftsmanship, of weather, skills and journeys, told through textures and surfaces, painted layers, rust and cuts. Feeding this enquiry are old fishing vessels, particularly those that sit on Aldeburgh beach, like large sculptures, abandoned and at the mercy of the weather and tide. A further interest was aroused through spending time climbing over piles of discarded wood cut from old sea smacks in shipping yards along the coast of East Anglia. These pieces are primarily made of oak and were often the ‘ribcage’ of fishing boats 20’ to 30’ long.
I spent a lot of time with the pieces I salvaged, constructing assemblages from them, becoming so familiar with them that I decided to take them with me to Cornwall, where I lived for three years. The intense light and salty sea mists ravaged them further, giving them a new history, and last year I brought the weather-beaten pieces back with me to East Anglia.
This year I decided to revisit them, reconstruct them, this time on canvas and linen, looking at how they were formed, by myself and by nature, and at what they have become. I seemed to be mostly drawn to the ‘circle’ and the ‘oval’ which appear again and again in the paintings. I continued to explore the shapes through painting abstract forms mixed with elements of the painted textures and battered surfaces which have remained more figurative on the canvas.
The backgrounds also became flatter, filling in planes, almost on the same level as the forms themselves, sometimes showing depth or space, sometimes showing a link between the structures. So the whole surface of the painting takes on a full and solid quality, sometimes punctuated by a vivid red, blue or orange. These intense colours were once part of the assemblages and before that were part of the original fishing boats.
The exhibition at North House Gallery will include both the paintings and the sculptures from which they evolved: my record of time and change that can be read in a flake of paint or a deep cut.
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