Desmond Morris is one of the last surviving surrealists. Over half a century ago, his first
London show during which he exhibited with Joan Miro at the London Gallery in February 1950, was almost the last exhibition by a surrealist artist in this country before the movement dispersed. When that gallery shut its doors later that year, it marked the end of a united surrealist group activity in England. The surrealist movement, which had begun in 1928 (by coincidence the year of Morris’s birth) had finally become a phase in art history. However, this did not stop surrealists, like Desmond Morris, from producing new works of art, but from now on their activities were personal and separate. Miro, Ernst, Magritte, Dali, Matta, Masson, Lam, Tanguy and the other surrealists continued as individual artists, but the days of manifestos, meetings and group showings had drawn to a close.
Despite his disappointment at the scattering of the movement of which, as a very young artist, he had only just become a part, Desmond Morris continued to paint and, to this day, has never stopped. He found it impossible to make a living from his art but was determined not to dilute it to make it more popular. Instead he built another career as a writer and his success in that sphere enabled him keep a studio and continue painting throughout the rest of his life. One of his books, The Naked Ape, sold 18 million copies worldwide and allowed him to devote whole years of his life to his painting in the 1970s, when he began exhibiting again in London. Nowadays his work is accepted and collected. He has shown regularly at The Mayor Gallery for many years, but has always harboured one unfulfilled ambition – to create one magnum opus that sums up his work. He finally decided to devote 2004 to this project.
Always a great admirer of the work of Bosch, he has visited and studied all the artist’s masterpieces that survive today. These great triptychs have fascinated him for their complex and bizarre imagery, and as an homage to Bosch, he decided to create his own surrealist triptych in which the biomorphic beings that have populated his own paintings since the 1940s would finally come together for a great assembly.
Called The Gathering this work has now been completed and will form the centre-piece of his solo exhibition at The Mayor Gallery exhibition this December. Morris had a special triptych frame made to the precise dimensions of Bosch’s Lisbon Museum masterpiece, The Temptation of St Anthony, which he visited again last year. He also used the same technique of gesso and oil on panels, and even produced a pair of painted back panels to be seen only when the triptych is closed. After sixty years of painting and the creation of over 2000 works, he sees this triptych at the climax of his work and jokingly says, “Now I can roll over and die”.
Also on show at the Mayor from December 1st to 22nd is a group of smaller works he has completed in the past few years and what amounts to a separate exhibition called ‘A Lost World’. In this, a collection of about 60 ‘Sketches for a Bestiary’ are displayed for the first time, even though Morris created them 44 years ago. They had been put in a large folder and hidden away unseen in one of the many drawers of Morris’s studio until, one day recently, he happened to mention their existence to Mayor Gallery director, Andrew Murray. Comprised of a number of quick, preliminary sketches for a bestiary that Morris had planned, but which he had never completed, these works nevertheless have a spontaneity and immediacy that is especially appealing. The exhibition title, refers to ‘A Lost World’ in two senses – it was lost in Morris’s studio for many years and it also depicts strange creatures that seem to come from a bizarre, lost world that we have yet to discover.
A catalogue will be available in both hardback and paperback versions, and will be on sale during the exhibition. For further information and images please contact Diana Ewer at The Mayor Gallery on 0207 734 3558 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.