Malcolm Morley (b. 1931)
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Malcolm Morley (b. 1931)

Safety is Your Business

Malcolm Morley (b. 1931)
Safety is Your Business
titled 'Safety is Your Business' (lower centre); signed and dated 'MORLEY 71' (lower right)
oil, wax and Liquitex on canvas
88 x 108¼in. (223.5 x 274.3cm.)
Executed in 1971
Galerie Veith Turske, Cologne.
Creutz Collection, Dusseldorf.
Saatchi Collection, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1990.
R. Fuchs, H. Kramer and P. Schjeldahl, Art of Our Time: The Saatchi Collection 3: Baselitz, Guston, Kiefer, Morley, Polke, Schnabel, London 1984, no. 52 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Malmö, Galerie Östergren, Malcom Morley, 1972.
Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Malerei und Photographie im Dialog, von 1840 bis Heute, 1977 (illustrated, p. 333).
New York, Brooklyn Museum, Malcolm Morley: Paintings, 1965-82, 1984.
Paris, Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Malcolm Morley, 1993 (illustrated in colour, p. 101). This exhibition later travelled to Toulouse-Labège, Centre Régional d'Art Contemporain Midi-Pyrénées.
London, Hayward Gallery, Malcolm Morley in Full Colour, 2001, no. 22 (illustrated in colour, p. 61).
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Lot Essay

'So only the experience you could have with them [the paintings] is to see them in person. Becayse the way they're painted is to go through the central nervous system' (M. Morley, interview with S. Friedlander, New York , May 2012).

Executed in 1971, Safety is Your Business is a pivotal masterpiece by Malcolm Morley, previously held within the prestigious Saatchi collection. Exhibited in major international museums spanning the years 1977-2001 including Zurich Kunsthaus, Brooklyn Museum, New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Hayward Gallery, London, the painting embodies an important turning point in the artist's practice when he began to experiment with the properties of oil paint, a new large-format and eschewing his prevailing hyperreal aesthetic in favour of a new kind of expressionism. In Safety is your Business, Morley creates a vivid technicolour scene with an orderly file of children alighting a bright yellow, American school bus. Going happily about their business, the children enjoy a brilliant blue, sunny sky and idle chatter, one boy casually wearing his weathered leather baseball mitt. Standing in the street closest to the viewer, another solitary boy stands, arms outstretched, flanking the hand-scripted words 'Safety is Your Business'. There is an ominous undertone to this otherwise happy, nostalgic scene, the painting delivering a message about living life, not with childhood abandon, but urgent caution as the child situates himself in harms way. Soon to board the bus, a little girl, hair in bunches, stands frozen, looking directly out of the picture plane towards the artist, now the viewer. Hers is a look of fear, terror stricken which amplifies the painting's real sense of foreboding.
Around the perimeter of the painting appears a thick, white, painted frame undertaken in Liquitex. Into this heavily textured surface, Morley has added geometric shapes in the bright primary colours of traditional North American stop signs: amber yellow and red. These colours, well recognised for their associations of caution, danger and 'do not walk', add to the portentous climate of the painting. As Klaus Kertess has asserted, lunging, scumbling and blurring thrusts of paint would continue to conspire, throughout the 1970s, with Morley's disaster-prone subjects. He depicted and enacted the breakdown of order, perspectival, psychological and social' (K. Kertess, 'On the High Sea and Seeing of Painting', M. Morley, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1993, p. 236). Safety is your Business can be understood as one of the first declarations in this new line of practice and painterly enquiry.

In undertaking the present work, Morley began painting in acrylic, but impulsively switched to oils, the transition materialising about half way down the canvas. As he explained, acrylic superrealist paintings took too long to realise and lacked the immediacy he so desperately sought. Instead he adopted 'Abstract Expressionism's rages of paint as they concurrently call to the roaring cacophony of urban life' (K. Kertess, 'On the High Sea and Seeing of Painting', M. Morley, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1993, p. 236). The wetter medium of oils afforded Morley the freedom to modulate his paint, the surface registering texture rather than absorbing it into the weave of the canvas. As Sarah Whitfield has highlighted, 'the surface of Safety is your Business has a certain abrasive quality suggestive of city dirt and grit. Details such as the line of windows picked out with sharp scratchy lines, the dry prickly feel of the vegetation and the weathered unevenness of the brick wall chafe rather than soothe the eye' (S. Whitfield, 'Malcolm Morley: Paintings 1961-2001', Malcolm Morley: In Full Colour, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London 2001, p. 52).

Safety is your Business was created shortly after the artist's politically motivated and quietly subversive painting Race Track (1970), which saw Morley effacing his high fidelity, photorealist painting of a South African race track with a red cross, in tribute to the black activist and dissident Malcolm X. This new, challenging subtext asserted in Race Track was to create a dramatic departure from his earlier postcard paintings depicting beach scenes and battleships. Shortly before he realised the present work, Morley turned his agitated liberation of paint to Los Angeles Yellow Pages (1971), in which he used the cover of that city's telephone directory as a work of art. The reproduction of skyscrapers on the printed yellow front was covered and subsequently stripped of paint, Morley using it originally as a palette for his painting. Scraped, with a jagged rip up its center, Morley adorned the page with a concentric target circle in mock homage to Jasper Johns. The work readily alludes to the destruction wrought by earthquakes in the California landscape and it is this tense, disquieting atmosphere that is imbued in the large format, Safety is Your Business.

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