John Meirion Morris

John Meirion Morris

Imaging Wales

To understand this artist’s work it is neither necessary to turn one’s back on the present, nor cast him in the role of shaman, both characterisations made of him by the Chronicle of Ancient Twilight brigade. Any artist runs the danger of having their work hi-jacked for the agendas of others; it has been particularly true for John Meirion Morris. In his essay ‘Imagination and the Magic of Tradition’, he accepts that he has repudiated "the dominating shaping energies of our century". He is in danger of being tainted by the opinions of some of his interpreters, which border on the reactionary, in their attempt to re-establish what they call the "spiritual in art". This is often a narrow-minded failure to recognise the profoundly spiritual dimension of much of today’s art. Such justification does him no service, for his art is serious and solemn and well above such clap-trap. He himself dismisses the majority of the art of today with contempt "…it does not address our needs, our fears, and our aspirations". Legitimate or not, this rhetoric deflects us from concentrating on his strengths and the extent to which he is akin to such spiritual artists as Kapoor and Gormley. Religion or rather spirituality, can be read into his work, but some of his apologists have it wrong, for his work possesses no conventional Christianity. His references are wider and much informed by his experiences in Ghana, where he lectured:

The source of truth is the inner image. This is what I realised from my African experience – an experience that shook me to the core… Such an insight led me to study Celtic and Neolithic sculpture that was part of one’s heritage in Wales and in Europe. Also, I read and read the Mabinogion and other Welsh and Irish myths with great interest.

Intensely political, he is working on a monumental sculpture, Bird Choir, to be placed on the Tryweryn Dam, built in 1965, when the village of Capel Celyn was drowned to make a reservoir for Liverpool and which became an icon of Welsh nationalist protest. Certainly we have in Meirion Morris an artist who should avoid those of his apologists who recite the mantra of modern art = rubbish. He is, in fact, very modern and more well-attuned to his world, place and time, than he might suppose.

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