Aaron Morse

January 23, 2008 - June 12, 2008


Aaron Morse is a Los Angeles-based artist whose paintings depict epic collages of imagery pulled from sources as divergent as 20th century American politics, 19th century Romantic literature, comics, art historical painting genres, and current events. Morse weaves these various themes together to fabricate symbolic, alternative worlds in which time and history seem at once recognizable and otherworldly. Animals and humans intermingle in colorful, surreal landscapes where space is disjointed and turbulent. For the Hammer Museum’s lobby walls, Morse created Timeline, a monumental wallpaper design, printed and reworked by hand-painting.

About the Exhibition

By Tina Kukielski


Quick on the heels of the turn of the nineteenth century, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked on their epic journey westward across North America to the Pacific coast in an expedition known as the Corps of Discovery. The mission given them by Thomas Jefferson: to investigate Native American tribes and settlements, to record the terrain and wildlife of the region, and to preclude the British and French from assuming dominance in commerce and exchange across these uncharted lands. The expedition lasted more than two years and engaged the participation of several dozen men. Today it is but a fable of American history, explored through interactive Web sites and games, PBS documentaries, and the timelines and maps found in visitor interpretation centers across a string of western states. Unlike later milestones in nineteenth-century American history, such as the Civil War or the industrialization boom at the end of the century, the western trek of Lewis and Clark was never recorded on camera. Indeed, the earliest photographs would appear twenty years after their return east. The imagery elicited by the retelling of their story, now well known to any student of American history—canoes, flora, fauna, Indian chiefs—is but a fabrication of historical imagination passed down from one generation to the next.


How historical imagery, photographic or not, becomes distorted, used, abused, and recycled over time is a pursuit of artist Aaron Morse. While Lewis and Clark make no overt appearance in Morse’s work, the subject is not so distant. Epic narratives of humankind versus nature drawn from America’s past lay the groundwork for his paintings: James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans and Deerslayer, pioneering adventures in space travel, or events like the tragic sinking of the Titanic. Morse is open to an anachronistic world history as well and draws allusions equally from a spotty international timeline: Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, the trials and tribulations of earthly wonders like Mount Everest, world wars, and the old and New Testaments. There is no limit to his visual data bank, and his source material is just as likely to be culled from nineteenth-century Currier and Ives prints or Classics Illustrated comic books from the 1940s as it is from hackneyed images newly uploaded on the Internet. More

Tina Kukielski is senior curatorial assistant at the Whitney Museum of American Art and a PhD candidate in the history of art at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.


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