Centerfold: Cheers to the Renaissance man: Desmond Morris's Sixties art under the microscope

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Desmond Morris already has a reputation for being something of a polymath. Zoologist, Man Watcher, gesture expert and even television celebrity - can the real Mr Morris please stand up? Knowledge and ability usually anger those who feel that one must be disciplined in a single subject alone and they will be even more distressed to learn of yet another Morris talent. Since his early childhood, Desmond Morris has painted and drawn consistently, exhibiting widely and frequently - even once with the great Spanish artist Joan Mir.

Morris began drawing after observing curious and commonplace organisms under his grandfather's microscope. Their spines and spindles, cells and structures he drew faithfully but they cropped up later in his paintings as fully fledged characters which he called 'biomorphs' - organisms generally unseen by the naked eye, but wholly engaging.

A cross between Sixties tribal art chic and acid cartoon, Morris's canvases are alive with boiling colours and a commendable ability to use empty space tactically. The works currently on show were created at much the same time that he was writing his international best-seller, The Naked Ape, and are looser and more colourful than the output from his two black-and-white periods which come just before and after. There is a sense of confidence and freedom in the work - related in part, to his biomorphic paintings but certainly less formulaic.

Whether these are great works of art or not is irrelevant. Many of the paintings have recognisable echoes in other works by great masters and Morris may be the first to admit them. Far more vital is the fact that Morris's paintings, like his writings, are conceived in a spirit of energy and supreme self-confidence. There is power and bluster here, bright colour, dream-like shapes and nightmarish visions, all the product of a brain which needs to experiment by way of expression. As the uni-discipline purists choke on this foray, one can only raise a glass.

Paintings from the Sixites by Desmond Morris at the Mayor Gallery, 22a Cork St, W1 (071-734 3558) to 8 Jul

(Photograph omitted)

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