Julia Morison: Omnium Gatherum: Alembic

7 July - 7 August 2021

Sumer is pleased to present Omnium Gatherum: Alembic, a group of ten new paintings (all 2021) by acclaimed New Zealand artist Julia Morison ONZM. The paintings are the latest in an ongoing series of work that the artist first began six years ago, but whose enquiry and methodology connects to much of the artist’s expanded practice, which spans five decades.  


Omnium gatherum is a grand term for a collection of miscellaneous things. Things that have been brought together but whose purpose or significance as a grouping is not immediately apparent—unlikely to adhere to a hard logic, such as that of modern science, or rationalism­­­­­­­­­­­­­ (the status quo perhaps). Additionally, the term omnium gatherumdescribed by some as ‘Dog Latin’—is, etymologically speaking, is also a mishmash of Greek and Latin, first appearing in pre-Enlightenment texts. The symmetries that coalesce its meaning and derivation make it particularly apt for the work of Morison, who seems to delight in highlighting in moments of both apropos and contradiction.


In Morison’s work we often witness a demonstration of her enquiry into language and meaning. Reaching back through space and time, she draws reference to systems of knowledge that sit largely outside of the dominant paradigm—speaking to the archaic, pagan, mystic and anti-modern. Of particular significance to this work, as with other past works, is the Jewish Kabbalah; and specifically the ten attributes of the Sephirot. Morison takes this order and merges it with another equally archaic form, alchemy; ensuing a new elemental order of her own choosing: lead, ash, clay, shit, pearl, blood, oxidized iron, silver, gold, and ‘transparency’.


An alembic isan alchemical still: an apparatus consisting of two vessels joined with a tube, through which a material can be refined with heat. By titling the set of works as such, Morison makes clear they are intended as a distillation of a sort. Indeed, each panel represents one of her ten materials. But whereas with earlier works such as 1,m0n0chr0mes (1996) presented these elements in simple monochromatic form, here they are far from it. Rather, they are elaborate and dynamic images that ribbon, snake, twist, radiate, grow in, across and out of the hard geometric grid continuing through the multiple paintings, binding them to one another. As with much of Morison’s work, they defy simple explanation—delighting, it would seem, equally in esoterica and paradox. 


Those less familiar with Morison’s practice are often confounded by its material and stylistic breadth. Certainly, in the past decades we have seen the artist working across painting, sculpture, ceramics and assemblage; from monochromes to figurative busts. Superficially they might give the impression of being independent and unrelated, but this could not be further from the truth. As per the title for her 2006 survey exhibition, A loop around a loop, we can seeMorison’s practice operating as a large wheeling spiral: always continuing to move forward—and not unlike life itself, is punctuated with moments with radical shifts and rupture—yet it is an enquiry which inevitably loops back on itself, picking up and adding to earlier themes and concerns. Through her art, Morison has created an expansive interconnected matrix, rich with both ideas and feeling. She is an artist with immense creativity, intellect and drive, the likes of which one struggles to draw parallel, be it here and elsewhere.   




Julia Morison (b. 1952, Pahiatua, New Zealand) lives and works in Christchurch, New Zealand. She has exhibited nationally and internationally and been awarded numerous grants and awards, including the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship (1989), and the prestigious New Zealand Moët & Chandon Fellowship (1990), which allowed her to travel to France for a year’s residency. She made France her base for the next decade, returning to New Zealand to take up an appointment as senior lecturer of painting at the University of Canterbury (1999 – 2007). She became a New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureate in 2005, and in 2018 she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM).