Part 1: Important Fine Art
27 November 2013


born 1959

oil on ten canvas panels plus additional canvas panel and wood attachment

41.0 x 50.0 cm each; 69.5 x 500.0 cm overall (with attachment)

$25,000 - 35,000 (12)
Sold for $31,200 (inc. BP) in Auction 32 - 27 November 2013, Melbourne

Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney


Darren Knight Gallery at The Armoury Show, International Fair Of New Art, New York, United States of America, 2006

Catalogue text

When it comes to technical virtuosity and vivid imagination James Morrison is peerless amongst his generation of artists.

Spanning five metres in length, The First Man and the Last Man, Arnhem Land, 2006 stands as a major work in the artist's oeuvre and was first exhibited in the Armoury Show as part of the New York Art Fair in 2006.

With one foot in the camp of colonial painter John Glover, with whom the artist shares a fascination with flora, and the other foot planted somewhere between surrealist James Gleeson and the naive artist Sam Byrne, the artist's meandering narratives unfurl along the length of the work.

Morrison's narratives are seductive because of his mesmerising brushwork. They can also be profoundly unsettling as the characters, both human and animal, look directly at the viewer intently pondering our fascination with them.

Morrison initially trained as a florist before going onto study art and brings to his work a thorough understanding of the many varieties of flowers that feature in his work. His childhood spent in Papua New Guinea has also given him an appreciation for the extremes of landscape and exotic vegetation, and the human relationship to them.

Humans, flora and fauna populate the works equally. They seem in relative harmony, however there is an uneasy feeling that all is not right in Morrison's wonderland. A bikinied beauty is clad in what appears to be chain mail and carries a machine gun, and a Neanderthal man considers space travel as the world becomes populated by mutant beetles who seem intent on righting the wrongs, and turning back the clock on the extinction of species, while wreaking revenge for all the travesties against nature.

The artist uses high and often-iridescent colour, which amplifies the intensity of the natural colour in the more conventional passages of paint. These contrasts serve the ensembles or arrangements that populate the work well, as they arrest the viewer's focus long enough to consider the juxtapositions and relationships they depict.

As Amanda Rowell put it in Art and Australia, 'Morrison's utopias are often punctuated by disaster, sometimes comic, sometimes grave. Such emotional disjunctures give his work some of its complexity. Lost pasts and anxious futures weave narrative tendrils around independent stories of creation and evolution: for the kingdoms of plants and animals have their own histories, oblivious to what matters to us. Morrison instinctively pieces together the evidence of all of this, identifying patterns in nature's big picture.'1

In recent years the artist has also made forays into the world of sculpture, with some sculptures finding homes in important collections including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Meanwhile Morrison's painting will remain compelling and mesmerising to future generations of collectors and admirers, and act as a reminder that the world really is an amazing place.

1. Rowell, A., 'James Morrison: A Contemporary Epic of Natural History', Art And Australia, vol. 13, no. 1, 2005, p. 86