A thumb’s up, a window through which a rainbow can be seen, a wooden fence. Using a mix of Pop Art and comics Morgan Betz (b. Amsterdam, 1974) creates his own unique visual idiom in which art history in the form of ‘High Art’ colludes with ‘Low Art’ – comics and advertising images. From 3 February, twelve new paintings will be on display, closely positioned in a row resembling a frieze in Gemeentemuseum Den Haag’s Projects Gallery. These large brightly-coloured paintings feature whimsical images. Outside the museum, Betz will surprise visitors and passers-by with a three-dimensional sculpture in the pond.
Today more than ever before, painting is a medium that offers artists a whole range of possibilities. Our current image culture can be viewed as a threat to painting, or it can be seen as an incredible opportunity. Morgan Betz is only too happy to exploit all the possibilities.
Betz is a daydreamer who draws and paints what he sees. But he does not regard everything he encounters as a potential painting. The decision to turn it into art is the culmination of a long process of deliberation, searching and looking at images with potential, and images he simply finds interesting. As he does this, he visualises memories, associations and feelings. And so fences, windows and doors become gateways to the imagination. Windows have for example been a recurring theme in his work since 2010. Originally they referred to the nighttime window in an apartment in New York where he stayed with his father as a child, but now they are a motif or tool that affords a view of unknown worlds.
Elements of earlier work are recognisable in his latest series, except that, whereas Betz hid them away in a corner of a painting back then, he now places them centre stage. Like the pink fist with the thumb’s up positioned in an apparently sunny landscape. His images are stylised in such a way that they remind us of symbols. At first glance they appear unambiguous, yet the longer we look at them, the more mysterious they become.
The technique Betz uses to apply the images to the canvas is also striking. He does not use a brush, but a transfer technique, covering a piece of card with paint and then depositing it by pressing it onto the canvas. The resulting irregularities introduce great tension into his work. Ironically enough, they also highlight his hands-on methods. He distances himself from the painter with a brush and the emotions that go along with that, allowing himself to take an approach more akin to that of the masters of the Japanese woodcut: composed and contemplative, thinking ahead and working towards the all-encompassing creative climax when the impression is made.
The title of the exhibition is taken from one of Betz’s favourite books as a child, Green Eggs & Ham by Dr. Seuss. Flies on Milk refers to a line from a poem by French Medieval poet Francois Villon. But just like the visual motifs Betz uses, the origin is no longer of any consequence in this choice and combination. The exhibition becomes an arena where flies, green eggs and ham can simply work their magic.
Morgan Betz, who is Dutch-American, grew up in the Netherlands and has lived in Amsterdam, New York and Tokyo. He studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy and De Ateliers in Amsterdam. He has had a studio in Berlin since 2008.
To coincide with the exhibition, a comprehensive publication in English exploring Betz’s entire body of work will be published by Willem Baars Projects. It will include essays by Mischa Andriessen, Dominic van den Boogerd, Johan Gustavsson and Hans Janssen; price € 24.95.