THE WIFORD GALLERY CHOSE SUMMER’S MOST PATRIOTIC OCCASION
—the July Fourth holiday—to challenge us with the profound American flag interpretations of L. Scooter Morris. She calls them sculpted paintings, which barely describes their many layers of mixed media and philosophy. Sometimes Morris begins with a painted canvas, tops it with burlap, tops that with cut or torn canvas, and paints her final scene on the resulting texture. Sometimes there are toys and other trinkets—Monopoly houses, doll shoes—attached to the surfaces and we are invited to look down on the scene from a bird’s-eye perspective. Sometimes there are black paint trails from bare feet, hiking boots, and tires. Morris offers up much to interpret and contemplate in these thirty works.
In For Love or Country No. 2, Morris divides the canvas into nine equal squares. In the center square we have the American flag. The upper right and lower left squares are given over to stars and stripes in rich golds and silvers, and the two other corner squares each contains a broken heart that has been laced back together and tied in a bow. The remaining four squares are beautiful American landscapes of the “this land is your land” variety, yet within each scene are horizontal strips of cut canvas that compose the view while evoking the stripes of the flag. Morris might leave a bit of burlap unraveled along one edge to represent fields of flowers or waving wheat, or she might unravel a long thread from a strip of cut canvas and shape a cloud from it. Americana, crafted right onto the surface texture.
Morris has a background as a jeweler and she incorporates those skills in her work as well. Silver star charms strung on gold and silver jeweler’s wire sweep across the blue rectangle of To Catch a Falling Star. Four of the wires end in gold curlicues that sweep across the flag’s stripes. This flag hangs vertically and four of its unraveling red stripes continue past its lower edge, and even past the frame, whose side supports are also uneven, like the stripes. For Beaded Flag, Morris adds some of the canvas stripes after first twisting them several times, and she lets some of their ends unravel and flutter beyond the flag’s edge. Beads strung on gold and copper wire wind in and under the stripes. Morris also teases us with subtle hidden messages. A painting called Barbed Wire only shows one large golden star and seven red and white stripes, but no barbed wire. Until you find it recessed between the edges of the canvas and its frame, fencing in the stripes on all sides. In Created Equal, all fifty stars of the flag have a figure—or figures, in the case of one parent and child—painted at their center, which only reveal themselves at close range. So, too, in Is That a Gun? There are tiny paper doll figures— two umbrella bearers, a man in a wheelchair, someone with a kite—cut from canvas and applied to the flag’s bottommost white stripes, which are represented here as stripes of cloudscapes. The flag’s red stripes are replaced by swaths of lush grasses at the bottom of the painting and by bands of variegated reds and blues at the top. And yes, there is a figure holding a gun, and perhaps a blood stain under the flag’s stars.
Gallery owner Tim Wiford curated the exhibition. “It’s about our experience under the flag,” he says, “and the reconciliation of different parts of our lives.” Smaller works that benefit from a close-up view are in the front sunroom, larger works reside companionably on the taller walls and under the high ceilings of other gallery rooms. And hold on, even the bathroom serves as exhibition space for several of the pieces. After all, everything in this country happens under our flag.
Most of the canvasses are framed with reclaimed barn wood assembled to Morris’s design specifications. The look and feel is rustic, even raw. Who Are You Shooting At? begs for just this type of untreated framing. Thirteen yellow toy pistols in a circle on the blue background replace the thirteen stars of Betsy Ross’s flag. There are bullet holes in two of the red stripes and Morris adds the impression of burn marks in other areas by using blue- black paint, or maybe they really are scorch marks.
Morris’s inspiration for the show comes from W. B. Yeats’s poem Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven. He speaks of celestial light quality in terms of gold and silver, shades of blue, and half-light, and Morris uses these hints throughout her work. Touches of gold paint shimmer within a flag’s white stripes in Stars and Spikes. One player’s doll-shoe chess pieces in Your Move are painted iridescent silver, and one single giant star on the flag in Walking Across America has five different hues of blue between its points. “I have spread my dreams under your feet,” writes Yeats. “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”