Art review: Victoria Morton

Victoria Morton Inverleith House, Edinburgh

ALTHOUGH the Glasgow-trained artist Victoria Morton is best known as a painter, her work has always extended beyond the frame. Once, in a show at Edinburgh's Fruitmarket Gallery, she painted one of the rooms a particularly violent yellow and installed recorded sound.

A few years back she was part of the now quite legendary performance collective Elizabeth Go, alongside such Glasgow luminaries as Cathy Wilkes and Sue Tompkins. These days she plays with Muscles of Joy, the experimental band that includes fellow artists Katy Dove and Sophie Macpherson.

Morton's work is not so much cross-disciplinary as beyond discipline, so it's not a surprise to see in her massive solo show at Edinburgh's Inverleith House that she has finally taken the step of including physical objects and photographs in the gallery space.

Although if it's not a surprise, the objects themselves are a little surprising at times. Oil paintings teeter on brightly painted wire waste paper bins, while a tiny watercolour sketchbook is mounted on a construction that is almost like a plinth, reversing the expected hierarchies. A series of paintings on huge hinged slabs, constructed like overturned sandwich boards, turn out to be cannibalised bedsteads. Photos are mounted under perspex, paperworks sit next to oil paintings. Oil paintings rest on chairs or lean nonchalantly in corners.

Recently Morton undertook a residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where furniture, tapestries, ceramics, renaissance paintings and rare manuscripts are all housed together in a similar cultural mishmash to Scotland's Burrell Collection. You feel, then, that she's had recent licence to think in terms of both texture and excess. There's certainly volume in this exhibition: 47 works of art, many of which are a collection of objects rather than solitary artworks.

So what to make of it all? Well, the emerging picture is one where Morton's life and art don't exist in separate places so much as rub along together. It's here where one can admit to a pang of jealousy because the artist spends part of her time on the wet west coast, in Glasgow, and the rest in a studio in Fossombrone, Italy, where her partner works.

Thus Balconies, the sequence of photographs that greet you as you enter the ground floor rooms of the gallery, includes scenes of continental life. They are, however, pretty far from the artistic clichs: Italy is represented as a Bacchanalian vision of the aftermath of a musical party. Viewed through a window, we see outdoor chairs, an abandoned drum, a tangle of gear just out of view. The sun, remarkably, is shining. The photo is mounted under glass and daubed with abstract shapes in oil paint: a kind of music where the music has long since gone.

In another set of photographs, images of domestic life abound: photos of the family bed, glimpses through doorways and down stairwells. A poster on the wall. A kitchen table stacked with colourful but unidentifiable stuff. Traces of presence, rumpled bed sheets but no humans.

Morton, though, is often thought of as an abstract painter. Some works are barely more than a daub of vibrant colour, splashed or studded with contrasts. Although I'm sure she wouldn't cite him as an influence, there are touches of Howard Hodgkin here and there. Paintings which explode out of and on to the frame. Acid colours, lime greens and yellows, crimsons and pinks – that sense you get with Hodgkin that a painting might be a particularly intense emotion or simply a particularly fine lunch.

But here are violent little stabbed paintings, in Miro and Klein blues, the canvas ruptured by a blade. Then there are tiny canvases with the lightest of touches, fleshy pink ink that has seeped into and stained canvas board.

At the same time, though, the figure and the body are often present. In the past, the unlikely sources of imagery in some of Morton's large rhythmic and sometimes disruptive canvases have been such unlikely bedfellows as renaissance altarpieces, the work of Max Ernst and the nudes of David Hockney.

While there's nothing explicit I can read in this show, there are plenty of bodies in these works.

Some of the larger, apparently abstract paintings have suggestions of human presences. Provocative Biology reveals the curves of human form, an eye emerges from the rhythm. A sequence of watercolours under glass seem to be dancing figures.

The body is most explicit, though, in works which include chairs, a staple human substitute in art. Linda, for example, is a small abstract canvas sitting on a chair wrapped round with a brightly coloured textile. In another untitled work, a small oil painting sits on a worn white chair as hairpins spill on to the floor. Everything feels patinated, lived in, comfortably human.

There's so much to take in, and so much that is deeply personal, that it is hard at times to relate to it. Morton's work is sometimes restless and often unresolved. But there are some works here that reach out directly to you in other ways: a singing colour in some of the smaller paintings; the human body, vulnerable yet familiar in those worn seats.

Until 2 May

&#149 This Article was first published in Scotland on Sunday, March 28, 2010