Sun By Ear: Katy Dove and Victoria Morton
Until April 1; Tramway, Glasgow

Glasgow artists Katy Dove and Victoria Morton have never collaborated before, but now that the Tramway has brought them together, the combination seems blindingly obvious. While Dove is known for her gently shifting animations, and Morton for her exuberant oil paintings, the two share a world of innocent visual wanderings.

The scene is set in Tramway’s enormous gallery space, designed in collaboration with Collective Architecture. A huge screen of transparent black gauze cuts diagonally through the space, dividing the gallery into light and dark without blocking the view from one to the other. Inside each space sits a cube: one turns out to contain a darkened cinema, the other a bright gallery space.

Dotted all around are paintings by the two artists, projections, and free-standing canvases. Some are tucked behind others, and your journey is not clear from the outset. Contrasting sounds waft through the air from unidentified sources, like the chimes and pistons of a toy factory. You meander from work to work, your own movements echoing the floating explorations of the artists in their own unconscious worlds.

Everything is shifting, overlapping, made of light. Katy Dove’s projected films, are of course, pure light. Having scanned her unassuming little paintings into animation software, she shifts them around, multiplying and layering them in a constantly changing ballet of light. Morton’s paintings, often intensely luminous with the use of fluorescent pigment, are a mass of overlapping patches of colour, always transparent, as if light is emanating from the very canvas.

A host of early Modernists come to mind; Joan Miro in Dove’s linear doodles, the hesitant petal shapes painted in flat, faded, not quite definable hues. Wassily Kandinsky in Morton’s symphonies of colour, controlled cacophonies of form and space. The Futurists in Morton’s shifting, animated half-figures, their outlines multiplied in movement.

And perhaps most significant of all, the two artists owe their treatment of light to Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Their work is thoroughly imbued with it. With his Transparent paintings, Moholy aimed “to produce pictorial space from the elemental materials of optical creation, from direct light.” The overlaying of transparent shapes and colours brought depth into Moholy’s flat, abstract pictures, and added an extra dimension to his kinetic sculpture.

The exhibition’s design plays a large part in this journey between light and dark. Your experience of light is constantly fluctuating as you move around; best of all is the presentation of Morton’s canvas, Filanda Painting, on the back wall. Surrounded by darkness, the canvas is picked out by a precise rectangular light which seems to come out of the painting rather than fall onto it. The painting itself, with its hot yellows, oranges and reds, evokes the sunny colours adopted by Paul Klee on his visit to Tunisia.

The hint of an architectural frame, and the fleeting suggestion of elusive figures in a doorway, don’t quite anchor the painting in real space, but they do give it the quality of a dream space, floating inside some unconscious mind.

In a brand new painting made this year, Compartments For Isis, Morton continues this exploration of inner space. At the top of the canvas, the rough outlines of doors and furniture can just be devined in the mass of colour. Closer to us, a door leads into a winding corridor. Neither space seems to have outside walls; everything is on the inside. Between the interior spaces lies a wild stream of colour and shape, an abstract crowd of mental noise. To the lower left is the suggestion of a human figure, flattened by the buzz of activity, and a bleeding mass of charcoal drips, like unfinished thoughts trailing off the lower edge.

Though Morton’s paintings share the elusive, meandering spirit of Dove’s films, there is one overarching difference between the two women’s work. While Dove’s compositions are relatively straightforward, Morton’s are extremely sophisticated. Despite the apparent all-over abstraction, in Morton’s paintings you can find a formal pictorial structure more akin to the classical logic of Nicolas Poussin than to modern painters. Real space slips in and out of grasp, but its shadow is always present.

While Morton’s large canvases hold their own in the large Tramway space, Dove’s new film, Stop It, struggles to command attention. Projected at a cinematic scale onto the white brick wall, it should be magnificent. But the artist’s films, like her paintings, are intimate offerings, best shown in small, enclosed spaces. Then, the slowly gliding landscape of painted shapes would hypnotise us, like clouds scurrying across the sky.

Dove and Morton, seen for the first time side by side, have much in common: which of course makes comparison inevitable. While Dove’s drifting forms seem to emerge unpremeditated from her wandering hand, Morton’s dreamscapes are orchestrated with educated precision. Both usher in a new kind of surrealism: gentler, calmer than the boyish fantasies of 80 years ago.

Catrìona Black, Sunday Herald 18.03.07