Sid Motion Gallery: Morgan Wills 'But What If...?' (until 13th December 2019)

I've seen Morgan Wills' work before, at Sid Motion Gallery's previous iteration in King's Cross. The artist's distinctive style has lingered in my mind since, so I was pleased to hear about his latest solo exhibition, 'But What If...?', which seemed to be an exploration into some more subdued, reflective themes. Given that Wills' visual language is light, rather cheeky and feels very current and fresh, seeing the artistic interpretation of "the existential anxieties inherent to the human condition" certainly whet my appetite.

Morgan Wills, In Grass, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 100cm x 120cm.

The space is organised really well, with three sculptural works curated around the middle of the room which were quite the surprise, as I had only seen Wills' painting work before, but not so much so that they seemed misplaced. The three sculptures come from the same series, taking similar forms with flat table-like surfaces on the top. Artworks alluding to a utility function fascinate me, and with a glass of water placed on each one, the works are given a deeper layer of understanding. Excitingly, what this layer might be is open to interpretation, but given its body-like shape, it speaks to me as the pressure of 'flexible' work, how leisure and work are blurred in this time of hot-desking and precarious work, making it feel like we never definitively clock out.

Wills' painting work has quite a cartoonish quality, which is enticing in the first instance, but after spending more than a single moment in the space the viewer realises that the artist is grappling with a much more complex idea. Anxiety is the mental health epidemic of our time, and with it being a largely generational issue, it has been interesting to see how Millennial (sorry) artists are conveying the problem both sensitively and unapologetically.

Morgan Wills, Listeners, 2019. Oil on canvas, 51cm x 61cm.


Detailed and familiar imagery found in the paintings are recurring, especially in 'Listeners' and 'Whisper', where we are reminded of the conditions in which anxiety manifests and thrives. Social media has given us access to thousands, even millions, more opinions than we would be otherwise exposed to; trying to work out our place within online communities is far more difficult to navigate than we could have expected. I genuinely feel for teenagers who have grown up and come of age in the world of ubiquitous social media. I had MSN Messenger and Bebo in my mid-teenage years, but they were easily avoided if you didn't want to participate. Social media wasn't an integral part of social life and social standings, and 'Listeners' shows the unreliable spreading of information with ears gestured towards a central point. It's almost as if we can't turn off the opinions, the voices, the commentary, regardless of whether or not we want to hear them.

Entrapment at the mercy of an invisible condition is also a motif; 'Vines' shows faces packed together at all angles with the eponymous vines hanging vertically, resembling prison cell bars. 'In Grass' has a similar effect, whereby the vast majority of a face is covered by unruly fauna. Despite the overwhelmingly green canvas, it evokes feelings of city life, feeling isolated and alienated in a densely populated space.

View: Morgan Wills, Time, 2019. Acrylic on wood, 92cm x 21cm x 19cm

'But What If...?' is a fantastic showcase of an undeniably difficult topic, spanning the casual, unavoidable anxiety-inducing moments through to more intense spells spiralling into disorder. The subject matter is important to me personally, and I feel that the work has the potential to transcend the gallery space into perhaps a campaign about getting people talking about the realities of anxiety. Aside from this, Wills has an impressive ability to create paintings that are hard not to love. Their unique ability to both tickle and provoke deep thought makes for a positive viewing experience, genuinely leaving me wanting more - in the best possible way.

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