Aaron Morse at Acme
Art Papers, August 2005
By Eve Wood

Gertrude Stein in her famous observation boldly stated "a rose is a rose is a rose," so one can surely argue that Aaron Morse's "bear is a bear is a bear," despite the fact it exists in two-dimensional space. The entirety of Morse's most recent body of work, currently on view at Acme in Los Angeles, becomes its own visual testament to space as a verifiably living and moving phenomenon.

Continuing his investigation into the fractious and often complicated relationship between man and nature, wherein nature's inherent brutality is justifiable, indeed beautiful, when compared with the cruelty man exacts against the natural world in the service of his will, Morse has once again turned up the volume, delving deeper into this necessary, though adversarial relationship. Though these paintings are populated by all manner of beasts from quizzical bears to importunate antelopes, the work does not come across simply as a primer for those aspiring to their very own personal menagerie, but echoes both the tragedy and bizarre humor of certain iconic children's stories such as Briar Rabbit, capturing the brutality of every boy's imagination, with rifles exploding, knives gleaming, cowboy's charging headlong into the face of danger as nearby the Indians bare their teeth. Many of the paintings here become pieces within a larger and sometimes oblique narrative, suspended in time like comic book stories where each panel reveals another clue in the fight against crime. In Magua (#3), we are given snapshots of a battle between a marauding cowboy and his equally menacing counterpart, a Sioux Indian, enraged and brandishing a gun. This painting, like many works in the show, pivots on a strange tension, revealing small snippets within a larger and more complex system of violence. No one here is the victor, and both cowboy and Indian willingly implicate themselves.

Other paintings in the show are not as explicitly violent. In Magua (#2), the violence between the Indian and the buff, blue-eyed blond cowboy, who stands smiling at what appears to be a large bear claw, becomes a sort of ballet as they struggle, frozen in a kind of dance in one panel, while in another, a moose stands, quiet and contemplative in a lake bed. If there is a final winner in the "game of life" as Morse sees it, it would certainly be nature itself, as in the 22" x 91" inch watercolor on paper, "Braniff," which shows a jetliner flying over the ocean, with a bubble extending out from the inside of the plane where passengers sit, unaware, and most certainly unconcerned, with the sheer force and awesome power at work below them. Were that plane to falter, nature would take it all back.

The most striking painting in the exhibition, titled "Natural Beauty" shows a black bear standing, head cocked to one side, arms out, his expression strangely serene, his large cumbersome body imploring us to come closer. This is not a menacing bear, though his eyes are red, and his demeanor might be construed as such, but his mouth gives away his humanity, a curious expression on his face as though were he to speak, he would ask us to explain our predilection toward violence and our relentless devastation of the natural world, which is, after all, in the end, our world too.