GLENN MORGAN: GLOBAL WARMING
In 2011–12, Warrnambool-based artist Glenn Morgan was inspired by the changing environment around him to create an enormous painting which explored themes of drought, fire, flood and extreme weather events. The 10-metre work documents extremes in weather and natural disasters.
The painting’s four adjoining panels are packed with stories, including exhausted CFA workers fighting fires and flooding rivers full of furniture, vehicles and debris. The stories come from both Morgan’s own experiences and from media images and stories, including of the cataclysmic Black Saturday bush fires.
Morgan says he intended the painting ‘to be like a road trip starting with daytime and finishing at night… I really wanted this work to be able to work from a long distance, then as you get closer, you get the more detailed information there is for the viewer to read’.
Glenn Morgan’s whimsical paintings and sculptures are bright, bustling scenes of figures and movement. His whimsical paintings and sculptures have a strong regional flavour and while often humorous, are keenly observed and socially aware.
& OPENING HOURS
This work will be on show in the Gallery when it reopens after the current temporary closure.
A PASSIONATE RESPONSE TO GLOBAL WARMING
WARNING: This website contain an image relating to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which some readers may find disturbing.
It took Glenn Morgan around 12 months to complete his epic 10-metre painting Global warming in 2011–12. Since its completion, he has exhibited the work at Place Gallery in Richmond in Melbourne, at Woolloongabba Gallery in Brisbane, in his retrospective at Warrnambool Art Gallery and at Australian Galleries in Sydney.
He explains his process behind making the work:
‘I planned it as one big landscape to be made up of different components. I laid it out in rough, painted the sky and put the background in and then started to put in the detail. The funny thing was though that the events followed the idea – as I finished each section, the next event would follow – fire, flood and other disasters’[i]
Morgan’s main sources of inspiration are observations of everyday life in Australia – conversations he overhears in the street in Warrnambool, the landscapes he sees when driving around the Victorian countryside, watching the news in the evening and trips to the footy to see his beloved Geelong Cats play (and hopefully win).
In terms of wider inspiration from the art world, he is drawn towards artists who focus on the depiction of ordinary Australians and artists associated with the Angry Penguins and Social Realists who showed scenes of working-class people in regional Australia:
‘When I look at artists who have influenced me, the first one I think of is Sidney Nolan – seeing the New Kelly series, it really hit me for the first time that you don’t have to paint things in a realistic manner, that I can do things the way I want. But there’s also naïve painters, Sam Byrne from Broken Hill and Lowry, the British artist. I really admire Noel Counihan – the social commentary in his work – and Joy Hester.’
Humour is a fundamental component of Morgan’s work, and he is not afraid to use his unique sense of satire and play to tackle challenging subjects. His sculpture Highway to hell 2015, which has quickly become a significant piece in the Art Gallery of Ballarat’s collection since it was acquired in 2017, features a blindfolded Cardinal George Pell standing on top of a bus full of convicted paedophile priests.
Morgan was prompted to create the work after becoming enraged while watching news footage of testimony given to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. There is a level of risk involved when tackling issues which shine a light on the failings of certain aspects of Australian society, but that is exactly how he uses humour to his advantage:
‘The way I feel about my work is that if people just get the joke, they’re missing the point, and the subject matter should smack you on the back of the head. You can have fun with it, as you crank the handle to make the pictures move or whatever, but the message can sneak up on you and have a bit more clout.’
Climate change is a subject matter which Morgan has repeatedly returned to as one of many subjects he deals with in artworks drawing from what he sees around from – on the road or at home with his family. He describes his practice as fluid, explaining that he is currently painting historical horse races, while also working on sculptural trucks based on what he sees on the road: ‘I respond to what’s around me. I move on as life moves on, and so pictures move on.’
His compulsion to examine the subject matter of climate change is based on his observations of the media:
‘Like a lot of my stuff, it was a response to what was happening in the media, it’s a sort of a visual diary. I was seeing a lot of stuff about global warming and I was getting frustrated and wanted people to take it seriously. It’s a work that tells stories – as well as the bigger story, there are a whole lot of stories within it: the floods and disasters, Tony Abbott’s in there with the deniers, so is Julie Gillard saying climate change is real.’
Although Global warming was completed almost ten years ago, the issues and realities depicted within the painting remain the same, particularly after the devastation caused across Australia during the 2019–20 bushfire season:
‘I wanted to say “global warming is real, it’s happening now.” And it is all around me. Driving from Mortlake to Melbourne, you can see waterholes that have been dry for years that had never been dry – I can see it clearly because I’ve lived here my whole life. It would drive me mad that people would go into denial about it when it’s all around us, like these recent fires – you can’t be in denial, this stuff is happening. So I want people to enjoy the painting but I hope that it helps them to really take the problem seriously.’
Morgan’s painting is in good company with other works in the Gallery’s collection which depict scenes of environmental destruction, including one of the earliest scenes of Australian bushfire depicted by a white settler. An Australian bush fire near Ermington was painted by self-taught artist Frederick Garling on his property in the Sydney suburb of Ermington, where the artist lived in the 1840s and early 1850s.
The work is a relatively gentle pastoral scene featuring small flames flickering in the grass. It contains none of the terror and ferocity of Eugene von Guerard’s Bushfire 1859, which depicts a bushfire near the Western District town of Camperdown, with massive plumes of smoke almost blocking out the full moon.
Another work in the Gallery’s collection exploring themes of environmental devastation is Tsunami 8 2005–10 by Pam Hallandal. This apocalyptic drawing depicts the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 which resulted in the deaths of over 230,000 people across Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. When the diminutive Hallandal won the Dobell Drawing Prize with a large-scale drawing from the same series, she explained:
‘There have been all sorts of catastrophes – floods and hurricanes – and man with all his technology buffeted by the powers of nature … It’s an attempt to find a way of talking about the power of nature.’[ii]
Morgan’s Global warming 2012 is part of a tradition in Australian landscape art which shows humanity coming to terms with the impact of both natural and man-made disasters. Morgan addresses the problem on a monumental scale in a way that shows the size of the problem we are facing and how we are struggling to deal with it. It is truly an impressive achievement.
‘I think it’s one of my best works, maybe in the top four. I am thrilled about the prospect of Global warming going in show in Ballarat where it can have some serious viewing for a while.’
[i] All Glenn Morgan are quotes from a phone conversation between the artist and Peter Freund, 2 April 2020.
[ii] ‘Tsunami takes top prize’, The Border Mail, 7 November 2009, p 20
Glenn Morgan, Global warming, 2012. synthetic polymer paint on board. Collection of the artist.
Glenn Morgan, Highway to Hell 2015. vipond paint, tin and wood. Purchased with funds donated by Andrew and Robin Ferry through the Art Gallery of Ballarat Foundation, 2017. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ballarat
Frederick Garling, An Australian bush fire near Ermington, circa 1840. watercolour on paper. Purchased, 1958. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ballarat
Eugene von Guérard, Bushfire, 1859. oil on canvas. Gift of Lady Currie in memory of her husband, the late Sir Alan Currie, 1948. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ballarat
Pam Hallandal, Tsunami 8, 2005–10. mixed media on paper. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Pam Hallandal, 2016. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ballarat