The Morris community is understandably excited by Jeremy Deller’s wall painting at this year’s Venice Biennale of a giant William Morris rising from the sea like Neptune and hurling Roman Abramovich’s yacht down to a watery doom. It’s a grand ebullient image certainly, with all the immediate, one-dimensional vigour of Roy Lichtenstein’s Pop Art comicbook paintings of the 1970s (like ‘Whaam’, for instance, which shows a fighter plane firing its missiles). How enjoyable to see Abramovich getting his comeuppance - a whole series of sacked Chelsea football managers might feel this too - and how invigorating to see Morris turned into an iconic superhero, brusquely meting out justice to the super-rich. We turn from this witty, exuberant image with a rosy glow in our hearts on both counts.
How different Deller’s wall painting is from David Mabb’s exhibition ‘Regime Change Begins at Home’ at the William Morris Gallery, where political slogans past and present are framed within Morris floral fabric designs. Each individual work here is modest and low-key compared to Deller’s enormous wall painting, but Mabb, we might say, is a classical modernist as political artist, in contrast to Deller’s depthless postmodernism. That is to say, Mabb’s Morris-based work has constantly operated by the principle of Eisensteinian montage, clashing discordant realities violently together to generate an effort of thought on the observer’s part which may result in a third term or new concept which goes beyond both of the original images. If I had to choose, I would plump for Mabb’s abstemious, thought-provoking political aesthetic over Deller’s one-dimensional sensuous exuberance; but perhaps we can clash these two opposites together too, and tentatively imagine a future political art which would combine the strengths of both.