Category Archives: Uncategorized

ISOBEL YEUNG – China’s Vanishing Muslims

This is linked to the protest going on in Hong Kong. The policies, political inclinations and political mindset of a place – China in this case – often manifest at its fringes and borders (think of the US – Mexican border, which, though, appears humane in comparison). Hong Kong and Xinjiang Province exemplify what China ideally wants. The documentary below is exceptional. Just imagine how difficult it must be to go there and inquire the place. Without this footage, the issues at hand would simply vanish as the millions of Uyghurs.

JONTY TIPLADY – Somebody Wants to Take Down Nick Land

Whenever the name Nick Land pops up emotions tend to run high. But go into this with an open mind. The essay addresses many points on current left – right dynamics, scapegoating, close and not so close reading of Land and texts in general. What kind of voices should be ‘permitted’ in the cultural field and what kind of voices should be dismissed, de-platformed, cancelled? Tiplady with help of Rene Girard’s scapegoat theory inquires the treatment of Nick Land and its wider implications.


Do you know that entanglement is given in the raciality of the concept, as such?

—Fred Moten

Stop thinking about things for a long time without saying what you think

—Kanye West

Back to early 2017 again, then, whether you like it or not. But because those events never stopped happening, which is to say because they were never fully read at the time (and so could never fully happen), we are already back there. We never left. We are already and forever 2017.1.

The take-down atmosphere of that time persists, and has mutated into even more fierce signs and symbols. Civilizational sexual hysteria is not the least of them, and hardly to be explained away; rather than a cover for the extinction drive, that hysteria is the only cover now available. It pushes the symptom itself one step too far.

Such is the atmosphere now and such was the atmosphere then: call out or be called out, maul or be mauled. Leave your name lying around and it will be taken. By summer 2018 signs recur and propagate. A certain abstinence of the example is useful. But the rules are clear:

  • A large number of online events are now subliminal panic rooms.
  • The locales of shunning resonate like empty wounds and tombs.
  • The attempt to kick each other out of thought deprives thought itself of its chance.
  • Violent disagreement has no opportunity as it goes under and is confused with rage.
  • Safety in numbers and collective slamming and in-group/out-group atmospheres are dominant keys of the Oedipal Internet.
  • Recursive occlusion/machinal apophenia/platform disindividuation/heuristic abstraction/”paint-shaming.”
  • Even Marxists understand that Kanye West does not have to read Nick Land to understand him better than anyone else.

In the 2017.1 signscape, the name of “Nick Land” crops up as a failed exorcism. Not only has “Nick Land” not vanished but his name, once purged of the disturbing atmosphere it attracted, becomes fully automated. Envisaged as a hermeneutic traitor to the species by la petite gauche—just like Kanye, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and de Man—he stands non-heroically as one of the ongoing tests. The remaining challenge to thought is this: perhaps the real reason Land was attacked in early ’17 was the sensitivity of his thought to the specter of extinction.


We will not take sides then. Or rather, we will not only take sides. Those who talk about the “right side of history” or play the ablution game are already off the scent. They will be unable to analyse the whole scene. Virtue and vice-signalling are merely dialectical halves. A space might be imagined where neither is indulged. Where an empty tension is risked.

We will therefore have to repeat the opening of François Laruelle’s lesser-known Nietzsche contra Heidegger and re-write it for our own times. We might say, for example, that the reader will be challenged by the idea that Land is at first appearance a fascist thinker, but that he is ultimately a thinker of the subversion of fascism; that Land makes himself fascist to overcome fascism; that Land has taken on the worst forms in order to hand them over to a different process; that there is something sacrificial in this bargain. Laruelle writes that,

We are all fascist readers of Nietzsche; we are all revolutionary readers of Nietzsche. Our unity is a contradictory relation (hierarchy without mediation), just as the unity of Nietzsche is a contradictory and auto-critical unity.

We will repeat the same, and find our unity here in this act of accelerative reading that gives the form of every accelerationism to come. We will affirm that there is such a thing as a fascist reader, and that there are ontological modes of fascist thought. This is hardly about you, as reader, says Laruelle, since you are split—you are split between the poles of mastery and rebellion the name “Nietzsche” or the name “Land” or the name “Kanye” represents.

Once you adopt this position, which is already the position that adopts you, you are ready to move beyond both vice and virtue and into the worst. It is here, where the worst takes place, that perhaps nothing changes even when change takes place inside change itself. The absolute worst is possible and that is what a rejected name usually says.


No doubt the scandalization of Nick Land goes back a long way. His name has always been somewhat folkloric, given to legend and misconstrual. Famed for his drug-fuelled exploits at Warwick in the 90s and for a death-driven book on Bataille, and then for his supposedly straightforward turn to the right, there is perhaps nothing newly shocking in his name. In terms of the controversy in early 2017—let’s call it “the Nick Land affair” just to see what happens—an exact moment of inception might at least be given, even if the content fails to be new. It is the moment in the piece “Is It OK To Punch a Nazi (Art Gallery)?”, written in February 2017 by the unknown “O.D. Untermesh,” when Land’s work was associated with an “aura” of “racism.” The essay was about the art gallery LD50 and its so-called promotion of a number of “extreme” and “neoreactionary” thinkers including, in the eyes of the piece, Land himself. In a sort of appendix to the essay, there is a clarification of Land’s relation to the sort of “fascism” and “racism” the essay is about and criticizes. This part of the article was the moment of inception:

Nick Land: One can split hairs by saying that Nick Land isn’t a white supremacist and is just into eugenic selection for intelligence so we can survive the coming AI singularity. However, a close reading of his recent writing reveals he just doesn’t like immigrants and black people. He likes Asians because they are deemed to be smart and polite, and he likes Japanese because they’ve resisted immigration. Racism is an aura around all his other pronouncements.

An essay exists by Rene Girard called The First Stone, which describes the Epheseus stoning recounted in The Life of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus, in which Apollonius leads a crowd to the theatre to stone a beggar when the city is threatened by the plague. Certain aspects of this scapegoat structure are well-known: for example that through the stoning the city is temporarily purged and in this sense the act becomes a socially necessary function and even a sort of miracle. Girard lingers with the account given by Philostratus and notices what happens very early on, at the very beginning, “before the first stone is cast.” He notes how “Apollonius refrains from mentioning the first stone by name” since if he did this “might increase the resistance to the properly mimetic and mechanical impulse which he wants to trigger.” The mechanism is, in other words, to a large extent automated and accelerative. It is triggered and triggering. And once triggered, there is something unstoppable about it. Not only that, the mechanical drive depends for its power on the unsaid, on the fact that it does not name itself as scapegoating, or as a mechanism to trap and manipulate the crowd. It involves, as it were, a lack of reading and a lack of attention. Scapegoating is itself an accelerative technology.

If the case of Nick Land in early 2017 is to be imagined as a historical persecution text then O.D. Untermesh plays the role of Apollonius. The small paragraph on Land is in many ways deceptive, even if “well-intentioned” and backed up by correct outrage. The reading implied threatens to be a fantasy: if one does the work of following the implied references, one finds oneself in a maze of Tweets and little else. Liking Asians because they are deemed to be smart and polite is not something easily tractable in any of Land’s theoretical texts even though it can be gleaned from moments of idly humorous vice-signalling Twitter threads. No real lesson can be drawn here: Land gladly risks losing points to provoke thought; the left risks inaccurate thought in its attraction to nostalgic activism. Both may be haphazard at the level of mutual code incompatibility.

To remain at the level of structural analysis, the paragraph acts as the first stone, and the awkwardness of the first stone is that it has to begin the imitative process, what Girard calls mimeticism but which might now easily translate as memeticism. Its sleight of hand is to insert Land’s work into a list of other thinkers such as Peter Brimelow and Brett Stevens who appear to be the same but are really (so we are told) also much more straightforwardly “fascist” and “evil.” The paragraph appears to know what it is talking about (“a close reading of his recent writing reveals”) and yet self-evidently does nothing to offer that “close reading” or guide the reader to where it might have occurred. One can go further and say that as if in close alliance with O.D. Untermesh’s mechanism, at no point during the “trial” of Nick Land in early 2017 did close reading actually take place. The case against Land would have been a function of lack of reading and was itself about lack of reading. Because O.D. Untermesh skips the responsibility of reading, everyone else was allowed to do the same and there is a kind of lock-in where argument by passive association and projective scapegoating take the place of actual confrontation.

The importance of this is not that O.D.’s reading of Land was wrong or right, but that in immediately and reactively coming down too heavily on one side, and reducing the tension in Land’s work in advance, it both denies the reader the chance to discover different aspects of his work, and, more importantly, prevents us imagining what all of this means as a cultural and accelerative sign. In other words, whatever position one takes, there is no space for non-prejudicial thought. Imagine what might have been prohibited here for the “well-intentioned” reader herself, especially in regard to the thanatography central to Land’s work. One question insistently occluded is, and here we take the mechanism to be civilizationally totemic: what is the relation of every contemporary politico-aesthetic scandal to the thinking of death and extinction?


One speculates that the first stone thrown by O.D. Untermesh was not just the beginning of memetic contagion and a mimetological response to the atmosphere created by Trump, of what Tom Cohen calls “mass resentimentalization,” but also a token of resistance in the tradition of what I want to thanatocentrism. The clickbait racist controversy consumer is invited to the interpassive online delicatessen according to the following script: go ahead, focus on the tasteless aspects of this or that person’s thought if you like, but if the essential prize of that thought is dawning awareness of the extinction(s) now happening and accelerating towards us, and if that awareness has to be prohibited elsewhere, there will always be a counter-force of reading. There will always be what is now called backlash. The placement of Trump as a mediatic scapegoat (who himself scapegoats and creates scapegoaters) has a sort of tidal wave effect of micro-mimetological incursions, little waves of almost molecular aggression and lateral distribution of blame, and all of this to assure that death is kept hygienically small. Discourse itself is soaked by the laws of fake reading and projective accelerationism, and is a function of denied extinctophilia. This itself is the technology of the hyperpharmakon that splits 2017 into 2017.1., 2017.2., . . .

When O.D. Untermesh pirouettes out of their paragraph by asserting, “Racism is an aura around all his other pronouncements,” there is an exacerbation of this already complex situation. One may query the tidy generalization of “all his other pronouncements,” but more interesting may be to reflect an unthought raciality in the very speed of such a judgement and to wonder how that relates to the possibility of extinction. In the example of Apollonius a stoning shall occur precisely because information has been withheld, and for Girard this always has to do with the denied presence of “collective murder.” It is not far from here to the presence of an altogether more collective and universal murder, ongoing and hard to track—and yet flagrant, the extinction drive itself, or the hysteria flagrante delicto of sexual accelerationism—and again for Girard this does not have to be said as such to be there. A working definition of raciality — and I mean the conceptual and experiential feints and occlusions that form all judgments, and how they may now be automated and so impossible to stop — is provided not by the thematic drift of O.D. Untermesh’s essay but by their reading style in this one paragraph. Such a definition of raciality would involve first of all a lack of reading, and the very presence of the projective scapegoating mechanism this brief engagement with Land sets in motion, together with a repressive attitude to different and alien definitions of death.

The question will be why focus on the noxious — again we do not simply mean “racist” here, since there is no conclusive answer in this respect (unless you are Nick Land’s analyst) and we may be dealing with a projection—aspects of Land’s work if as a whole it does not have some other resonance, and what if not every statement of his has or could have a racist aura? What if, in fact, the main thrust of his work has an entirely other aura and atmosphere, an atmosphere of cold objectivity that always invites the lack of reading here described, which is to say to scold it? Is a certain conceptual raciality set up to shut up, shut down and occlude this something else that Land’s work names in advance? To what extent is racism fundamentally a denial of personal extinction at the level of reading choices, or even of the fluidity of possible universals? In other words, many aspects of the attempt to criticize Land may themselves be conceptually biased in the way they occlude, ignore, refuse to read, and display contempt prior to investigation of what the other is saying and has said about (and this is not just an example) expanded thanatos.

Moreover, if there is a raciality in and of the concept itself, which is to say the presence of juridico-theoretical violence and bias not just in the way we depict other races but in the ways in which we conceptualize the very act of depicting the other’s racism, what repercussions does this have, conceptually and experientially, for how someone’s body of work relates to itself, early and late, and for how online critique works and fails to work as we go from year to year?


One can suspect that the recoil of O.D. Untermesh, representing as it does a certain ideology of the British Marxist left, is now broadly diagnostic. The actual identity of O.D. Untermesh remains unknown, but one can pencil it in as both collective and talismanic, or at least representative of a shared thinking. There are not only traces of semio-xenophobia, with Land taking his place in a long line of names read badly by an old boys network of English theory-baiters, but effects of a generational tendency freeze-framed in wheel spin. This ideology traces back on the English scene to one invariant, which is the idea of the enemy-existence whose extinction is worth anything. In its setting on Mute, the article by O.D. Untermesh recalls not just the return of the repressed social underdog, the untermensch, but the spectacular failure of the dominant radical Marxist and often poetic praxis in the UK to mark and self-read the inoperativity of its own desires. Hex, bait, sacrificial victim, stupid Tory, fuck the cops, and so on: however socially necessary these enemies may feel, none of them have worked to stave off any future destruction more broadly. However sophisticated the aesthetic movements that accompany nostalgic activism, their theorization now feels inoperative.

It can be noted that O.D. Untermesh’s text also aligns with the attempt of a certain ideology to atone and sublate itself out of its limitations through a turn to racial politics, but in this case a conceptual limit persists and perplexes itself. Nobody understands the need to socially cohere through targeting better than Girard, and yet here, as in Girard, the very addiction to having a target comes into a heavy and belated crisis. Is O.D. Untermesh our own mirror image (so say the English) or Theresa May in Vivienne Westwood drag? Isn’t there something a bit too 80s about all this punk rebellion? But the situation is mixed: Land himself was in the beginning utterly English in his adherence to a modernist prose tradition, that of Wyndham Lewis say, and yet is also thoroughly continental (or French) in that particular way that the British Marxist tradition has often found hard to stomach or understand. Perhaps vice-signalling itself is simply part of an aborted colonial-punk contract. Combine this with trace-elements of a provocative theory of eugenics (speed-read) and one can understand the online car crash.


Land’s work from early to late is insistent on the idea that death is never just death, and so may in fact be “A-death,” where the “A-” names a muted shift from death to extinction. He has always written close to the near end of man, fueled by ateleological scattergram, with an intense awareness of “apocalypse market overdrive” and the collapse of the long-term into a near-term that bears no resemblance to the reefed schizophrenias of various waning socialisms. Why wait to say death, why wait to say extinction? The Landian critique of the discourse of death and its attempt to expand thanatography (in recent work this has taken the form of an emphasis on “the Great Filter”) means that his writing demands resistance, and that the more legitimate the reasons for resistance (“authoritarianism,” “evil,” “racism”), paradoxically, the more that the resistance may cover over. Looking back to early 17, the fact that it so much mattered to proclaim that Land did not matter was but evidence of the extent to which Land’s writing is, in effect, a writing that matters.

The critique of thanatography is hard to bear because it always costs recoil and severe adaption. The critical question astir is whether the breakthrough may be achieved without the heroics of a techno-eugenicist Übermensch that consign the untermensch to second place, hence inviting recoil and industrialized ressentimentalization and the imploding theatricality of overdose (O.D.). If there are two Lands, one who constitutes this breakthrough and one who indulges tasteless appendages, is it possible to hope, based on where we are, that at some point in the future, which is to say now, the two Lands as indexes will be dissociable? The current rage of la petite gauche seems reason enough to doubt it. The English avant-gardists are so blinded that they can’t even see their proximity to the Cambridge Landianism of Vincent Garton. One can wish for a better index, but this is where we land. The name given, however violent, needs to be read.


Our contention is that Land’s treatment in early 2017 may be indulged as what Rene Girard calls a historical persecution text. In a very profound sense, Land was a scapegoat for certain pressures and ongoing occlusions that coalesce to make up “the Trumpocene.” This statement should be read carefully, with two invisible hands. It does not mean Land necessarily suffered or needs to be defended, for instance. It does not mean we refuse anti-racism as a discourse. But it does mean that we open a space to mark the limits of anti-racism as a mode, and that any body of work that follows through on the thought of a death that is not just that — death now is predominantly extinction —will now always be shunted sideways and produce vivid signals of transference. Historicist names the enclosure whereby an underestimation of linguistic irreversibility, and a kind of viral thanatocentrism that dresses itself up behind the correlationist fantasy of criticism, serve, and here is the irony Girard and others tee up for us, to accelerate into inoperativity militant political efforts themselves. The meaning of the victim or even epochal gimp threatens to simply escape again and again into the light of the screen, thus victimizing the need of meaning itself and of new names. We forget ourselves and our co-implication through all the rerouting; we forget the status of humans insofar as they are capable of thinking as Land does, and as the non-homogenous Alt-Right does, and this itself seems part of the accelerative bargain. Girard himself locates in the process of victimization a crisis-response and a type of primitive acceleration that closes out:

When a society breaks down, time sequences shorten. Not only is there an acceleration of the tempo of positive exchanges that continue only when absolutely indispensable, as in barter for example, but also the hostile or “negative” exchanges tend to increase. The reciprocity of negative rather than positive exchanges becomes foreshortened as it becomes more visible, as witnessed in the reciprocity of insults, blows, revenge, and neurotic symptoms.

One might draw up a rule here: the less people take the time to analyse what happens each time a problematic name is called out, the more automated (or accelerated) the phenomenon becomes, as if the mechanized agon of the left (angelology) and the right (demonology) were itself part of the way ‘time sequences shorten’. Here is Girard again, sounding like a proto-Land:

We must think of the monstrous as beginning with the lack of differentiation, with a process that, though it has no effect on reality, does affect the perception of it. As the rate of conflictual reciprocity accelerates, it not only gives the accurate impression of identical behavior among the antagonists but it also disintegrates perception, as it becomes dizzying.

The monstrous point and the point of the monstrous is that one starts not to see at all. What’s at stake is the pain of thought as it attempts to shut out thought through a blizzard of ablution and scandal that replicates what it approaches; call this for example the addiction to Trump itself, the T-function. Land’s work, for all its lapsing early on into lurid Bataille fanfic, for all its strategic proximity to vice-signalling, is indexical of this lack of angelic English equanimity, stating where we land now. Here is Girard once more:

Once set in motion, the mechanism of evil reciprocity can only become worse for the very reason that all the harm which does not exist at that precise moment is about to become real. At least half of the combatants always believe that justice has been done since they have been avenged, while the other half try to reestablish that same justice by striking those who are provisionally satisfied with a blow that will finally achieve their vengeance.

One sees the virus of “mass ressentimentalization” that accompanied the key epigenetic moment of the Trumpocene in early 2017, the multiplication of online targets, the mutilation of names that don’t cohere with a central and patrolled “radical” sense, and all of this as part of a broader accelerative tendency that takes in both Land’s followers on Twitter and those who pretend to be able to oppose him. This mechanism, Girard says, ‘can only become worse’, and what it constantly represses is the vulnerability of the human itself and its tentative hold on life. What is denied away is the one who if they are not who they are (immigrant, racist, theorist, racial other, human, unconditional accelerationist) will be punishable by effective (internet) death — and yet who they are is freighted with such human vulnerability that its meaning is threatened by the attempt to push it out of discourse (and so the attempt is self-feeding).

The scapegoat is by definition the one who cannot not be the one who they are — at least not before semantic conversion— and so their accusation always portends a crisis of meaning and its covering over. To write of this disavowal-machine is not to hope for its lifting — there seems no sudden surge into positive avowal available — but it is perhaps to know with Land and Girard and others that ‘mimetic contagion of collective murder’ is already real enough to reach a saturation point of enforced ignorance and non-consciousness. Girard’s The Scapegoat is already in a sense a post-A.I. text and a description of the degenerescence within the laws of human compassion. Even knowing this may be part of an accelerative epistemology readying itself to be hacked by absolute disavowal, since (Girard again) ‘the acceleration of this vortex produces the “victimage” mechanism that brings about its end.’ We represent already a drive, an extinction drive (Aussterbestrieb), towards a unilateral end of the world, and yet in saying so there is only metaphoric equality and a production of terms. Extinction abstracted from its differences becomes a form before which we are all the same, a Generic Extinction. “Nick Land” is one name, among others, for what that meant.



Malcolm Morley In Remembrance
(1931 – 2018)

One tends to think of our artistic community, to some extent, as being similar to a symphony, which requires multitudes of instruments that each have their own distinct and unique sound, yet as a whole, they contribute to the total orchestration of musical experience. One can be certain that Malcolm is more like a violin or a piano rather than a viola or a celesta.

Anyone who has met or known Malcolm would offer a similar view, from up close the compelling details are deliciously visible, while from afar a broader perspective of the subject is generously revealed. As the saying goes, “there are those who read to remember and those who read to forget.” Malcolm, with great certainty, belongs to the former.

The following is our tribute composed by his friends and admirers.


Eric Fischl

I met Malcolm in 1976 when I visited his studio in NYC. The purpose of my visit was to invite him to lecture at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design where I was teaching. NSCAD at that time was profoundly and intransigently anti-painting and I thought that if anyone could change their minds about whether painting could still be radical or not, Malcolm was the one to do it.

At the time of my visit he was nearing completion of a painting about a train wreck, and as we stood there in front of it he explained his process to me. A friend had given him a shadow box with a model train smashed up and set against black velvet. He decided to paint it but rather than work from a gridded off photograph of it like he’d been doing, he decided to paint it from “life.” He floated a string grid of thread over the box and then cut cardboard to hide all but one square at a time. As if that wasn’t going to be difficult enough, he decided to paint it backwards. When he finished the painting he realized that no one would be able to tell that he had painted it backwards, and so he went back into it, adding the image of a crumpled Russian newspaper on top of the wreckage and then added a border with Japanese calligraphy on it. What didn’t occur to him until he’d finished it was that no one who didn’t speak Russian or Japanese would be able to tell that they were also painted backwards!

Anyone who knew Malcolm will have stories and memories not unlike this one. Every painting Malcolm created was a journey and an adventure. There was no one painting then or now who could make such a laden tradition feel like a novelty. There hasn’t been anyone who can match his child-like whimsy, wonder, and impish disregard for the weight and authority of painting’s own history. In his insistent deconstruction of the language of imagery and process of painting, with all its attendant clichés and sentimentality, he painted with an explosive energy that brought with it its own renewal.

Without Malcolm where do we go from here but carry on.

Andy Hall

I first became aware of Malcolm’s paintings at Charles Saatchi’s gallery in Boundary Road, London, in the 1980s. These bold, colorful canvases, full of unlikely and anachronistic juxtapositions, had a dreamlike quality with an unsettling hint of menace. They were hard to forget. Years later, as Christine and I became committed “collectors,” Malcolm’s work became a particular focus of our new obsession. We tracked down works that spanned his whole fifty-plus-year career as one of the most innovative painters of his generation. In the process we got to know Malcolm quite well and visited his Long Island studio on a number of occasions. That Malcolm, like us, was an émigré from England (he came from the same unglamorous suburbs of West London) probably resonated. But his deep understanding and knowledge of art history combined with a quick and mischievous wit was what really made our encounters a stimulating and memorable experience. On one occasion, we listened to Malcolm give a lecture about his work to MFA students at Yale. Malcolm had illustrated his talk with slides of some of his better-known works replete with the familiar Morley motifs including ships, model planes, toy soldiers, animals, motor cyclists and the like, all executed in his signature palette of bright saturated colors. At the end of his talk Malcolm answered questions posed by the students. The first came from a young lady who asked if Malcolm “had ever engaged the nude?” The then 80-year-old painter considered the question for a moment, narrowed his eyes and dead panned: “Yes, on many occasions.”





From his early days in New York, Malcolm befriended and hung out with other artists. It was Richard Artschwager who told him to quit experimenting with sculpture and stick to painting ships. Supposedly Malcolm, following this advice, lugged his easel down to Chelsea piers and tried to paint the ocean liners that were docked there. He eventually gave up in frustration finding it impossible to fit the huge vessels on his canvas at such close quarters. Instead he bought some post cards of these passenger liners from a nearby newsstand and in his studio faithfully replicated the cheap four color printed images onto his canvases by using a grid. Thus was born his signature style and method along with a genre of painting dubbed “photorealism,” as well as some early Morley masterpieces like SS Amsterdam in Front of Rotterdam and Cristoforo Colombo. But Malcolm soon rebelled against being pigeonholed in this way. He defaced one of his paintings—a copy of a South African tourist brochure of a horse racing track (the aptly titled Race Track)—with a large red “X” the day before it was to be photographed for an article about him in Time magazine. Thereafter he progressively subverted his own earlier works. His imagery became more and more gestural to the point where by the early 1980s he was considered a leader of the neo-expressionist wave. How many painters can be categorized as both a photo-realist and a neo-expressionist? Subsequently, Malcolm successively synthesized these two polar extremes by painting gridded arrays of pure gestural abstraction that at a distance resolve into photographic imagery (or as he preferred to call it) “super” realism.

About 10 years ago we were chatting to Malcolm at a dinner honoring him and some other New York based artists—including a very well-known one with a famously large Manhattan studio and dozens of painter-assistants. Malcolm motioned in this artist’s direction and mentioned that he had recently spotted a help-wanted ad in the newspaper seeking “photo-realist” painters. He called the number and asked what they were paying. Malcolm wasn’t too impressed with the rate and said he thought it should be more. He was asked if he “could do photorealism?” to which Malcom answered breezily, “oh yes, I invented it.” We are going to miss you Malcolm.


Robert Storr
A Working-Class Dandy is Something to Be

Some memories spring into focus with the unimpeachable clarity of first-hand experience and others flicker around the edges of such clarity in such a manner as to suggest that they aren’t really one’s own recollections but rather variable mental reconstructions of things one has heard, things that however second hand nonetheless made so deep an impression that they feel first hand, earned. Years ago, when I was teaching at the Studio School on Eighth Street, I seem to recall having crossed Washington Square and noticing a man intently making $10 sketch portraits on a French easel of any and all comers.

It was the mid-Eighties and the man was Malcolm Morley at that time riding the crest of his second big wave of art world fame as an emblematic elder statesman of what the Royal Academy called A New Spirit in Painting. Such was the title of the RA’s 1981 survey show of post minimalism and new media art. In 1984 he was chosen the first winner of the newly inaugurated Turner Prize, further confirming his status as a pivotal talent in the eclipse of the former avant-gardes of the 1960s and 1970s, all the while being emblematic of some of them, most notably the advent of photo-mechanically based practices that would morph into “anti-aesthetic” Post-modernist “discourses” of the 1980s. An expatriate Brit who brought his working-class accent and a pugnacious style with him from the rougher parts of London where he grew up during the Blitz as well as an avid enthusiast of early aeronautical exploits, Malcolm was the Wrong Way Corrigan of Photorealism who became famous for his anti-expressive renditions of luxury liners, contemporary interiors, race tracks and other “pop” culture subjects. By the 1980s all this had morphed into vivid, deceptively awkward renditions of toy soldiers and other tokens of boyish fantasy that could not be more pronounced, reminding one of Picasso’s statement that having been well trained in traditional skills it had taken him years to learn how to draw like a child. 

This transformation, as well as his academic training and official honors, speak to Malcolm’s dedication to workman-like craft—as a practitioner of a medium that was officially dead he took the greatest pleasure in declaring his devotion to “the fine art of oil painting”—in constant dialectical tension with his utterly unpredictable playfulness which, Borstal boy that he had been before he found art, drove him to seek out and study rules the better to break them. For me the excitement of looking at his work overall and still more so example-by-example, was watching the tug of war between his drive to dazzle like the old masters and his impulsive need to mess with the viewer’s expectations—and his own.

Early in my tenure as a Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA, and less than a decade after A New Spirit in Painting, I had occasion to acquire a looming, brushy painting of a fishing tub Michelle (1992) and, later, as Dean of the Yale School of Art, I organized a compact retrospective of Malcolm’s work. At Yale the one gallery synopsis of his career began with a conservative Euston Road-type landscape made while he was a student (the motif was the studio/residence of Sir Joshua Reynolds which was then inhabited by the British actor John Mills who came out to check on the person camped on the green outside his house and bought the work on the spot)—to brand new installation works incorporating the façades of pubs and other talismans of his childhood.

When I initially broached the issue of exhibiting his work Malcolm had just come through a life-threatening illness and seemed rather fragile. However, except for the Brooklyn Museum which mounted a Morley survey in 1982, the major New York institutions had generally neglected him, and thus despite his vulnerability—or perhaps because of it—Malcolm was anxious to take these 3D paintings public. I was, too. (In 2013 I organized a similar capsule retrospective for Alex Katz in the same space for the same reason.) And so, the Yale School of Art showed them for the first time as the climax of a synoptic account of his career that began with the landscape mentioned above and encompassed major Photorealist canvases, funky painterly montages and reliefs of the 1980s, watercolors and more, many of which featured his preferred boy’s toys—akin to those of Chris Burden, prompting one to wonder what a Morley/Burden exhibition might look like and what insights into “masculinity” it might offer—model planes, model boats, toy soldiers, and wonderfully polychrome sculptural animals wild and domestic, as well as a life-sized figure of a British marine. In the aggregate, they demonstrated a lifetime of empirical invention in many media and many representational idioms.

For students hamstrung by the ideological strictures of post-modern discourses of numerous kinds Malcolm’s object lessons in full-bore multifarious facture were liberating. They provided abundant evidence that insouciant improvisation, betting on the long shot and choosing aesthetic anarchy over decorum could bear spectacular results—so long as they found themselves at the disposal of fearless and ceaselessly tinkering hands. A graduate of the school of hard knocks—in addition to reform school Malcolm did time in prison for burglary—and of the Camberwell College of Arts in the then unglamorous South London along with the tonier and more prestigious Royal College of Art nearer the center of the city, Malcolm was an insatiable student of the Grand Tradition, whose late life passion for “swagger portraits” of Admiral Nelson and other “heroes” of the British Empire would have cast him as an easy target for post-colonial critique had his obvious, not to mention fertile, contradictions and irrepressible contrariness not made him so engaging.

Moreover, Malcolm wore those contradictions like badges of honor. Or rather like a costume in his own updated re-creation of the charming shit-stirrer Gulley Jimson from The Horse’s Mouth. Accordingly, Malcolm arrived at the opening of his exhibition at Yale wearing an elegant felt hat and a hyper-posh black woolen overcoat from Saville Row, which he peeled off to reveal a fire engine red plaid suit set off by a bright green tie. Then, having made his entrance, he worked the room for several hours, talking to students and faculty not like an elder statesman resting on his laurels but like the restless, trouble-making maker that he was, someone who could give the youngest of the young and the cheekiest of the cheeky a run for their money. The gallery was abuzz with his images and with the effect that he had on all who came in contact with them and with him. It was a great evening. The paintings remain and they will continue to startle the eye and stimulate conversation long after the “verities” of late 20th and early 21st century critical chatter have been rendered obsolete.

Robert Storr
Brooklyn, 2018


Richard Serra
Looking at Malcolm’s paintings

What it is
Is and is not
What it means
When I look at Malcolm’s paintings I mix my sensations and memories with my immediate perceptions. I don’t know how to separate them, I don’t understand what comes from my recollection and what comes from my perception.
Malcolm’s paintings converge with my memories even though their subject is Malcolm’s memories, Malcolm’s sensations.
What you see and what you think you see are not always synonymous with what’s present which also includes what’s absent; what’s in the gap, the caesura of perception.
In that gap I find cynicism that targets social progress, I find friction, collision, collapse and catastrophe.
The difference between one Morley and another is in the ideas they contain about painting which take me beyond the visual.

Richard Serra
February 2005


Dorothea Rockburne

Dear, sweet Malcolm,

Damn! You know that I love you, love your sheer devilment! I’ll miss you, your art, and your ever inventive, wonderful intelligence.

We met in the early 70s on Crosby Street. You were painting a street scene from your fire escape. Spotting me you introduced yourself. Showing me your work, you explained that you painted upside-down. That didn’t get a rise from me. You continued to chat it up telling me how you learned to paint… in prison. [Still no desired effect from me.] How could you know I was partly English? I was raised in this rapport!

Next, you explained in England you had been a second story man, a thief. You related how you would enter a bedroom through the open window. Couples were either sleeping or fucking. You’d emulate their breathing, go through their pockets, then escape. Caught and sent to prison you learned to paint and fell in love with art. Only now can I tell you how amazed I was by your past, back then I simply nodded and said hmmm!

The next hilarious Malcolm scene occurred when we were both in Xavier Fourcade Gallery in the 80’s. Xavier had, against all odds, managed to clean up your bad habits. That freed you to paint. You were doing well.

The summer of 1981 was hot in New York. I was working on the Large Angel Watercolor on Vellum Series. Xavier and I were having fun with Angelology. On the phone daily from Bellport, he would translate archaic angelic information for me from his French Library; often he would send a car on Sundays to drive me out to Bellport for a welcome swim and lunch.

On one such occasion, Malcolm and his then new Brazilian wife joined us. We were sitting at the table dawdling after lunch when Xavier suggested a game: If we were to die and be reincarnated as an animal, which animal would each like to be and why? I was breathless waiting for your response. The question went around the table with the usual answers—a giraffe, a lion, a bear, a cat, a dog, a tiger etc. until it came to you. Carefully studying everyone’s face you stated (having just been married), “I would like to return as a woman.” Silence reigned. It worked. They were shocked and I broke up in laughter. We had always loved and understood each other.

Your social form of rebellious love will always remain in my heart.




Bonnie Clearwater

Malcolm Morley was a risk-taker. Pigeonholed as a photorealist early in his career (a term he rejected in favor of “super-realism”), Morley defied categorization by frequently changing his work. As soon as a body of work was successful, he felt compelled to take a new tack, remarking, “You only really succeed by taking risks.” A child of war-time London, Morley lost his unfinished miniature model of the battleship HMS Nelson when he left it to dry on his kitchen windowsill, only to be destroyed that night, along with part of his home, in the blitz. This model became his “Rosebud,” representing the perfection he sought to achieve throughout his career. The frequent changes in his work perplexed those who wished he kept making the exquisite paintings of photographs of ocean liners that brought him fame in the 1960s, but his bold experiments were hailed by other painters. In 2005, when I was organizing back-to-back solo museum exhibitions for Albert Oehlen and Morley, Oehlen told me that Morley was the American artist who had influenced him the most. Although I never asked Oehlen what he meant, his revelation propelled me to remap Morley’s work as a missing linkbetween a vein of modernism that fused abstraction with figuration, and the artists of the postmodern generation. Painting gave Morley a sense of peace. Dividing his source imagery into square sections on his canvas, his world became whichever quadrant he was painting at the moment. His technique was democratic, no square was more important than the other. And when he reached the last square, all the segments coalesced into a single brilliant image. I was fortunate to work with Morley when he was 74, and at the top of his form. By then he had the luxury of time to understand the consequences of his actions and to find meaning and continuity in his work, as well as his place in art history.

Bonnie Clearwater



Alanna Heiss

Malcolm was a rascal. No doubt about it. He was also a tormented, talented, ambitious visionary. He was dangerous. Primarily self educated, he was a voracious reader and wildly over informed about a vast array of subjects. His wit was quick and sharp and could be deadly. I was always quite careful around Malcolm even when joking as I wanted to avoid exposing a lack of knowledge. I wanted him to respect and like me.

I succeeded, largely, in this goal. Malcolm frequently, and generously, referred to the importance of a show of his work that I organized at the Clocktower in the ‘80s.

I believe it was Klaus Kertess but it could’ve been any one of a number of (painter) friends who alerted me that Malcolm both needed and deserved a show at the strange, exclusive, tower in the sky that I ran where I exercised the extraordinary luxury of curating one artist shows in a space high above the Tribeca skyline with a large clock on each side symbolizing both timelessness and timeliness. Called the Clocktower, there had been since 1972 a run of wonderful shows each focusing on the special and sometimes strange quality of artists’ dreams. This is where Carl Andre showed the poetry he wrote for his mother. This is where Dennis Oppenheim did the famous piece with the German shepherd. This is where Lynda Benglis first made her odd tied gelatinous bows, and this is where I invited Malcolm to develop a show that would explain to his artist colleagues what he had been up to the previous five years.

We all knew Malcolm was a great artist, but we also knew Malcolm was troubled and from time to time he would reject all around him, including his own work. He explained to me that he wanted this show to not only prove a point but to prove several points, his position in painting, and his opinion about other painters. Always optimistic, I suggested that we organize a panel with three other painters he admired to discuss their positions. The painters we chose were Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, and Joan Mitchell. Knowing that Malcolm was held in high regard, I thought that support from the great painters of the moment would increase Malcolm’s confidence that he could follow his own path. Unfortunately all the painters rejected this invitation. Brice told me he was too depressed to take part in the exercise. Joan Mitchell told me to get lost, and Robert Ryman said he couldn’t speak in public. I made Ryman come because he is such a nice guy that he couldn’t resist but true to his promise, he refused to say anything about painting except “uhm. Uhm uhm.”

Malcolm and I had chosen a beautiful show of powerful new paintings which accurately reflected his previous years of unseen work. The opening was mobbed by artists excited by the opportunity to see the new work and to hear Malcolm explain his role as a painter in the cluster of the admired painters of the moment. I was proud to be a part of the evening and to hear Malcolm speak with his customary extraordinary abilities. The panel began and I introduced Ryman and Morley, and when I asked Morley to speak he dived under the table and brought out a large paper bag from which he gleefully extracted handfuls of torn up paper that he threw in the air! He then ran around the room throwing the paper in the air yelling, “that’s all there is folks! That’s all there is! You can just tear up all your theories and throw them in the air, it doesn’t mean anything!” 

Although this was the time when performance was emerging as a viable exponent of art logic, this performance failed miserably. Once again Malcolm was seen as a kind of discontent who put little value on that which we valued so highly.

However the show itself was the argument and the only argument needed for Malcolm’s genius despite his deliberate rejection of the opportunity to be a member of the club. It was clear and although Malcolm was no club member and would never be, he was a real artist.

Les Levine was worried that Malcolm was a potential suicide. He told Malcolm, “if you think you might do it, be sure to call me and I’ll come and take a last picture of you.” That’s how he came to take a picture of Malcolm in Central Park sitting disconsolately on a bench. We used that photograph, of a lonely and sad Malcolm for the poster of the show.


Peter Krashes

Malcolm liked a perhaps apocryphal story about a conflict between Alexander Calder and Frank Lloyd Wright. In Malcolm’s telling, Wright was forced to accept a Calder mobile in the atrium of the Guggenheim so he stipulated it be solid gold. Calder assented as long as the gold was painted black. Malcolm saw gamesmanship as a natural outcome of creative convictions. He called it “historic ambition.” He took on his own actions as well as figures like Picasso and Cézanne and Turner who loomed large in his creative life.

I think the bold suits Malcolm wore in public, and the hand-striped overalls he wore in the studio were a product of his deep self-identification with being an artist, and more specifically with painting as a practice. He wore and painted the same colors. At varying points in his career he performed as a painter in public and created surrogates for himself inside his work. I don’t think he believed there should be much separation between his dream-life, what happens in the studio, and life in public. This lack of boundaries produced uncontrolled outcomes, (he painted phalluses while collecting containers in the studio—we called it “The Search for the Perfect Container”) and startlingly fine-tuned insights. It also enabled him to set aside his own inhibitions, whether with brush or career. It was good if an action evoked opposition, especially his own.

As vivid as his imagination was, his painting was nearly always grounded in observation. Not just his painting. He always looked around for better ways to do things. If a tool he needed didn’t exist, he made it. Perhaps the single tool he made that best captures him was a pair of gridded eyeglasses. They help break down what you are looking at as long as you don’t move. Malcolm was generally on the move.


Sir Norman Rosenthal

As I write this short tribute to the memory of one of the greatest painters of the last half-century, Malcolm Morley, I happen by chance to be sitting in the middle of an outstanding group of his works belonging to Andy and Christine Hall. The Halls, particularly independently-minded collectors, were great friends and supporters of Morley since the nineties. This group of paintings is housed in Schloss Derneburg, near Hanover in Germany, formerly occupied for many years as a studio by Georg Baselitz, but now brilliantly transformed by the Halls into a museum accessible to visitors—a place also of true romance. 

This coincidence means much to me personally, as Malcolm was the poster artist for what was by far the most significant art show I ever co-curated, A New Spirit in Painting, which opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in January 1981. I collaborated on A New Spirit with Christos M. Joachimides, who too passed away earlier this year, and Nicholas Serota who went on to stage a great show of Malcolm’s works at the Whitechapel Art Gallery where he was then director.

In the early 1980s, Malcolm was making those extraordinarily dense expressive paintings of parrots, camels, cowboys, and native Americans that evoked exotic, even lost “fantasy” child-like colonial worlds. They matched, nonetheless with their very own style and mood, the new painterly expressionism of his European contemporaries, such as Baselitz himself, as well as newer, younger artists on the scene, such as Julian Schnabel and Francesco Clemente. But the fact is that Malcolm had much earlier already led the world of new painting by literally inventing Hyper-Realism, largely in a great series of ocean liner paintings, which in their time served as a great antidote to Pop Art while at the same time being a kind of necessary and vital sub plot to that world.

Malcolm was, of course, born into a British working-class family, but became a quintessential great American painter. His style of painting was constantly evolving as it conjured various motorized sports vehicles—bikes and cars, airplanes, but also horses. But with the evolution Malcolm always conveyed the profundity and even necessity of holding onto a certain child-like innocence. He was, indeed, immensely widely read, especially in matters pertaining to the human mind. However, it is touching, at least to me, that his last paintings present us with richly colored fantastical worlds of medieval castles: the knights that joust in shining armour were all based on toys that littered his house and studio. And yet through it all Malcolm was the most modern of painters, not say of individuals.

Malcolm was a marvelous man indeed, one of huge artistic achievement against many odds!

July 2018


Nancy Hoffman

It has been many years since I have seen Malcolm, and while we lost the thread of connection, he was never far from my mind—especially his energy. I marveled at his willingness to go out on a limb and stay there, allowing in dream-like images, which became part of his work. His daring was undeniable, his mash up of subjects was uniquely his. He was not a “photo realist” like others in that movement, though he often used postcards and photos as reference.

He was a renegade presence in SoHo in the ’70s and ’80s, peripatetic in his connection to galleries. Nancy Hoffman Gallery had the good fortune of working with him during a particularly fertile, rich, adventuresome period of his life in the ’70s when he was experimenting with wide ranging imagery.

In the summer of ’78, while at the Venice Biennale, I came upon his spectacular L.A. Phone Book page painting, real yet raw, pulsing with life. I decided to send him a postcard to tell him that he stole the show, and plucked a card of Guardi’s Bucintoro from a postcard vendor, never thinking it would turn in to a painting. Lo and behold, months later Malcolm completed The Ultimate Anxiety with Guardi’s image painted in his muscular fashion, and through the center of the painting he placed a toy train from the Lewis catalogue, recalling his London youth, referencing the shape of Venice bridges and disrupting what would otherwise have been a classic image of the ship that protected Venice.

That was Malcolm then, the brilliant disrupter. He and his genius will be sorely missed.

Nancy Hoffman


Brooks Adams

Malcolm Morley needed me in the ’90s. That is, he needed a younger American critic to write an essay for his 1995 retrospective at Fundación “la Caixa” in Madrid, organized by the European poet, curator, and former museum director Enrique Juncosa. All the subsequent catalogue essays for galleries were a terrific chance. Do you know how exciting it is to get a first crack at deciphering dense new paintings, and the occasional sculpture, by an eccentric, quixotic genius?

In person, during our studio visits, Malcolm was often flirty and gallant, lacing his comments with the occasional “dear” or “darling.” What did it signify? It seemed a throwback to an older, English lingua franca of difference—a strange survival in his now more established, though still quirky, individual style of speaking.

In the late ’50s and ’60s, was he an Angry Young Man or more of a Joe Orton type? There was that criminal, Jean Genet-esque aspect of his youth. Was he a bohemian tough, like one of those scrappy, Fitzrovian artist-pickers and their hangers-on in Anthony Powell’s multi-volume novel, A Dance to the Music of Time?

New York, February 2011. It was cold. I was staying in a hotel on the Upper East Side, took a cab to Penn Station, then a train to Bellport where Malcolm met me at the station, seemingly still in his pajamas, an overcoat thrown over them. I had come from Europe as he had, long ago. The conversation in the car was polite. He was reading a biography of J.D. Salinger, a strange choice I thought at the time. We were floating through the winter landscape of Long Island. I realized with some shock that Malcolm was driving and that I was going to be spending the night at his house.

Brookhaven. July 4th weekend, 2018. Around the pool at Tom Cashin and Jay Johnson’s, down the road from where Malcolm had lived and worked in a converted church, Lida Morley mentioned that Malcolm was once a redhead.

Greece, July 2018. It was hot. I was sitting in the Pirate Bar in Hydra, looking at the boats. One with an electric blue stripe on a red hull. Another caique painted a dull dark blue with a feeble yellow stripe. The white crests of water from speedboats, wakes crisscrossing, when we had earlier arrived by ferry from Metochi: all of it was Malcolm.


Gian Enzo Sperone

Dear Malcolm,

For many years I’ve been unable to classify your painting: fathers, mothers, grandparents, etc.

It isn’t that I haven’t tried. The thing is, you were—and are—an unusual painter whose originality doesn’t reveal any underlying influence.

One of my obsessions in my youth was the problem of influences in art. That subsided in the early ’70s with Harold Bloom’s book, The Anxiety of Influence, but it does explain why I’ve always found your work mysterious and undefinable; precisely because it’s rather rootless.

Your work isn’t this and isn’t that, doesn’t derive from this and doesn’t derive from that, respects the norms but at the same time violates them: consequently, it forms a page of true independence and extravagance in the history of painting.

In a context punctuated with the triviality of phoney and often unimaginative anarchists, your intuitions—yours and yours alone—are prized material. 

Your friend and dealer
Gian Enzo Sperone



Ken Miller

I first met Malcolm Morley at one of Alanna Heiss and Fred Sherman’s famous summer paella parties. Malcolm was probably already in his seventies, I, headed in his chronological direction. Sitting down over plates of delicious rice, beans, shrimp, and clams, lovingly prepared by Alanna’s paella specialist, Charley Balsamo, we bonded over a mutual life-long love of marijuana. I sensed that Malcolm’s wife Lida was becoming increasingly nervous as the conversation lingered on that subject, and then it reached the point where he asked with a gleam in his eye “Are you holding?” My wife, Lybess, pinched me and nodded her head in the direction of Lida who was frantically waving me off. 

We subsequently met many times at their studio/home in Brookhaven and at ours on 17th Street in Manhattan where hangs a particularly nice Morley, an ocean liner with a life-boat dangling off its side. There’s a lamp strategically placed so as not to obstruct the view but to protect the escape vessel from hands which might carelessly knock it from its moorings.

Once he admired a Moroccan fez I had donned on a lark, and after I took it off right then and gave it to him, it remained on his head for days, the white on his rice. The conversations we have had about art, philosophy, human nature, and our pasts—often punctuated by laughter—resonate as some of the more honest and essentially human exchanges it’s been my privilege to experience. 

Requiescat In Pace, Malcolm. Juvenile delinquent. Borstal boy. Bricklayer. Three dimensional artist. Multidimensional man. Truthspeaker. Deepseer. Lifelover. Friend.

Ken Miller


Enrique Juncosa

I met Malcolm Morley as I curated a retrospective of his work for Fundación “la Caixa” in Madrid. The show opened towards the end of 1995 and travelled the following year to the Astrup Fearnley Museet voor Moderne Kunst in Oslo. Malcolm was a great person to work with: he was an enthusiast, incredibly bright, and had a terrific sense of humor. He was also very generous. I was a freelance curator at the time and had not organized that many shows yet, but he seemed happy with anything I suggested or wanted to do. He also loved to talk, from old time stories and gossip about the art world, to serious reflections about his art and that of other artists he admired, like Picasso or Cézanne. He talked about painting as if it was a matter of life and death. He also liked to travel, especially by ship. He loved boats and aeroplanes—their shapes but also their suggestion of adventure. I remember Malcolm enjoyed meeting an admiral, who for some reason attended his opening in Madrid. He did my portrait while we were having a drink in the terrace of a bar, and later gave me a wonderful watercolor depicting a waterfall in Jamaica. When we were in Oslo, everything was covered with snow and it was freezing. We had dinner in one of the houses of Mr. Fearnley. He had a room furnished with Viking furniture, and also an indoor swimming pool and a ping-pong table. Malcolm was very good at this game. Mr. Fearnley also enjoyed big game hunting and there were heads of large antelopes hanging all over the walls. Later on, I bought one of Malcolm’s paintings for the collection of the Museo Reina Sofía. Later on I visited Malcolm and Lida at Bellport. It really suited him to live by the sea. Malcolm’s work is greatly admired by other painters, and I remember having spoken about him with Terry Winters, Cecily Brown, Miquel Barceló, Francesco Clemente or Philip Taaffe. Morley’s work was central to the art debates that dominated the art world in the ’70s and ’80s. After that, his work became more and more personal, like perfect material for psychoanalysis. It would be great to see his work in depth in New York very soon.


Robert Hobbs
Pre-Imaging and Painting Discrete Bits of the Visual Spectrum

Unlike other Brooklyn Rail contributors offering telling anecdotes about their friendship with Malcolm Morley, my association with him was strictly professional. In 2004 Angela Westwater invited me to write an essay on Morley for a May 2005 exhibition of his work at Sperone Westwater. I then spent an afternoon with Morley, who had been profoundly affected by a breakdown several years earlier that had left him speechless for six months, resulting in a return to his 1960s super-realist painting practice. This episode no doubt made him regard each interview as an opportunity to set the record straight about his ongoing effort to pre-image a single cell in a gridded photograph in order to transform it into painterly equivalents, and he was consequently very forthcoming.

Morley felt the need to be as faithful as possible to the discrete, small cutout blocks of photographic imagery that he would take from a chosen photograph in order to carefully analyze each one in an attempt to pre-image it in terms of the tones he would then transpose to his canvas. Even after undertaking these precautions to ensure painting a primary role in the conceptualization and actual production of individual cells, he realized that slight, yet critical, qualitative gaps or breaks would intervene.

Although this process has often been attributed to Chuck Close’s efforts to break down photographic images into discrete bits of visual information, Morley started doing it two years before Close, who was one of his fellow teachers at the New York School of Visual Arts. Even though Morley worked with photographs, he was far less interested in analyzing photography’s ways of warping vision through the necessary licenses it takes with depth of field than in understanding how he as an artist was able to perceive the world. For all their drama—and certainly Morley’s subjects of sports and news events in his later works are highly dramatic—his own acts of pre-imaging, followed by his transposition in paint of the resulting images, is the very human stage comprising his stirring paintings.

In my opinion Morley’s approach has definite antecedents in the English picturesque tradition of envisioning actual landscapes as equivalent to works of art before actually painting them. His tactic also resonates with Cézanne’s heroic efforts to understand a selected motif in nature before transposing it to watercolor and oil paint. I view Morley’s pre-imaging as an acceptance of Kant’s a priori that precludes any direct understanding of the world since it is always mediated in terms of space, time, and the causes one might attribute to it; but Morley does so while still countering this transcendental means of knowing through the most rigorous empirical means possible.


STEPHEN MESSENGER – Towards a Cognitive Theory of Politics

link to essay:

This is a promising direction that needs way more research. It posits that we are not much ‘in control’ what we think our political positioning may be, but that we are very much guided by intuitions derived from our cognitive makeup.

Messenger writes, ‘In this essay, I will propose a ‘Cognitive Theory of Politics,’ which suggests that the ideological Left and Right are best understood as psychological profiles from which political intuitions, beliefs, values, ideologies, principles, and policies follow. Ideology, and everything else, is downstream from psychology. The theory posits a new principle of moral psychology: Psychological profile comes first, intuitions follow.’

‘Ingroup’ stands in for the ‘Loyalty/Betrayal’ foundation. The ‘Liberty/Oppression’ foundation, added to the first 5 foundations later by Haidt and his researchers, is absent.

Messenger: ‘As I have argued before, concepts like liberty, equality, justice, and fairness take on different—even mutually exclusive—meanings depending on which psychological profile is interpreting them. The Left’s bias toward outcome-based conceptions of ‘positive’ liberty seems to follow naturally from its profile of Platonic rationalism focused on the moral foundation of care. The Right’s tendency to favor process-based conceptions of ‘negative’ liberty follows from its profile of Aristotelian empiricism in combination with all of the moral foundations.

It’s almost as if Left and Right are speaking different languages, in which each uses the same words but attaches starkly different meanings to them. Both sides agree that liberty is a great thing, but because neither side realizes that their understanding of it is different from that of the other they talk past one another, or worse, assume their opponent is stupid, ignorant, or wicked due to the failure to grasp concepts that in their own minds are self-evident.

A more accurate, science-based, universal understanding of the ‘Social Animal’ (humans) by the social animal might break the language barrier between Left and Right and provide a common foundation of knowledge from which productive debate can ensue.’

Stephen Messenger has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Systems Management. He has worked for 35 years in systems engineering and program management for FAA, DoD, and civilian government acquisition programs. In his spare time he studies psychology, ideology, and politics and writes a blog called ‘The Independent Whig.’


KEN LIU – The Paper Menagerie

listened to this twice. very dense. ken is a prolific writer and translator (and many other things). His translation of the The Three-Body Problem won the 2015 Hugo Award, the first translated and first Chinese novel in the award’s history to have won. Here Ken talks about this short story collection The Paper Menagerie, translation, cultural codes and more.