Memorial Studio Show
October 1-31, 2013
1919 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
Saturdays, October 5, 12, 26, 2-4pm
Drop-in hours most any day in the month of October by appointment.
“An Artist’s Fragile Legacy”
by John Held, Jr.
My friend Bill “Wa” Morrison passed away on May 30th of this year. Family and friends have installed a memorial exhibition in his North of Panhandle studio apartment. Much better than a gallery salute, in this intimate venue you not only receive a sampling retrospective of the artist’s works in drawing, video, textile, installation, photography and performance documentation, but you get to witness the manner in which he lived his daily life surrounded by collections obtained from his world travels, most notably pictorial plates and orbs.
A Fulbright grant enabled him to live in Japan for a year, and his connection with the esthetic is unavoidable. One only has to look at the brushes he used and the calligraphic sweep in his voluminous drawings and installation works, including nude studies of both genders and white string wrapped packaging bathed in black swathes of sumi ink. Despite a reputation as a Conceptual and Performance artist from the 1970s, Morrison employed an array of traditional and contemporary visual art techniques, which impacted all his works in their compositional certainty.
This included textile design, which he used in performances requiring netting varying in composition of yarn, string and rope. Some of these works can be found hanging on the walls to great effect. The installation throughout the studio apartment is thought out and first rate, reflecting a close feel for this artists’ lingering residue. It also provides an artistic history through photography, installation props, drawings, video, sculpture, collage and assemblage.
Towards the end of his life he began calling himself “Wa,” the first two initials in his name, which differentiated himself from the filmmaker Bill Morrison, the name in which he worked under in the 1970s as a performance artist. Unappreciated and denied a narrative in the recently celebrated “State of Mind” exhibition, shown throughout California and in New York, Morrison nevertheless produced a significant body of work, which should not go unnoticed. The reputation of an artist is fickle. It rises and falls on uneven waves of popular taste and fashion. I wouldn’t be surprised if Morrison gets singled out one of these days for his diverse participation in myriad fields of contemporary art and the intermingling of those mediums. I hope he does. I hope this article, which is probably more press than he’s received in the past ten years, helps in placing his body of work in proper institutions capable of propelling future research; not only on his own life, but the climate in which he developed over the past forty years.
Tom Marioni speaks of him as one of the most interesting performance artists of his generation, and that’s far from faint praise. Having obtained a doctorate in Marioni’s Salon of Independent Artists, the current embodiment of the Museum of Conceptual Art’s Wednesday salon, “Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art,” meetings, Morrison was highly regarded by the gathered artists as a master performer. In the last few years he began mixing projected video imagery with live action, adding to the video soundtrack with additional verbalization. Downright shamanistic.
The legacy of an artist is fragile. It often gets tossed aside by family members, who never took the trouble to inquire of, or appreciate the work in its formative stage. Fortunately, Bill “Wa” Morrison had a supportive network of friends and family that have perpetuated his artistic memory with care and understanding resulting in this thoughtful and emotional showcase.