Alex Gene Morrison is known primarily for his painting and video works, which amalgamate different genres and visual motifs. We speak to him about his latest exhibition in London, and find out how music has shaped his practice.

Can you tell us a bit about the lightning strike that seems to be a motif in these works?

It is essentially an archetypal image that is primeval and universal. It signifies raw energy, creation and transformation. In other works, I wanted a feeling of re-animation, a sense of something possibly ancient or even futuristic being reactivated and made sentient by an unknown force. So the glowing bolts, splits and tears that punctuate the show may suggest the presence of an elemental energy that runs through this “world”. 

Obviously it also links directly to various pop cultural references from Frankenstein and other horror films to heavy metal and sub-cultural design. 

Most importantly, it functions as a compositional device that provides a strong visual contrast in relation to the more organic forms in some of the other paintings. This is what it always comes down to when making decisions in the studio, is it a good painting, does it “do” something visually exciting? 

Is the title of the exhibition, “Same as it ever was...”, a Talking Heads reference? And if so, why?

It is a direct reference. Coming up with show titles is really difficult. I never want anything overly explanatory, so finding something that fits but doesn’t suggest too much is hard. I decided early on that I wanted to use a song title or a lyric of some kind for this show. 

Talking Heads are a band I have loved since I was a kid. One of my older brothers is a musician and so I was lucky enough to be “fed” interesting music from an early age. I think Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light” was among one of the first albums I listened to. So there is a personal nostalgia attached to it. 

The lyric “Same as it ever was” is from the track “Once in a Lifetime”. For me the song communicates a sense of deep time versus our everyday existence. 

How does music influence your work?

Music has been a really important reference point simply because it has always been a big part of my life. I grew up in Birmingham and there was a really solid alternative music scene. And of course Birmingham is the birthplace of heavy metal! When I was about 16 there was an amazing club called “The Hummingbird” where I got to see bands like Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Nirvana etc. It’s the usual cliché: the grunge kids, skateboarders, punks and goths were obviously my tribe and I felt comfortable in the dark and dingy clubs and pubs that we inhabited. Music is a shared attitudinal connection that brings people together. It’s primal and very powerful. 

Over the last year or so, having despaired at the utter mediocrity of most recent “alternative” music, I found myself going back to some of the stuff I used to listen to such as Sepultura, Slayer etc. Ever since, I have become rather obsessed with finding heavier and heavier sounds. There is a very healthy metal scene, both here in the UK and abroad, with lots of young bands making really progressive, technically masterful and challenging music. Whilst making the works for this show it was this type of music that was being played in the studio (and on the way to and from the studio) because I actively wanted it to seep into the “attitude” of the work. So even though the title of the show comes from a Talking Heads lyric it’s the most heavy metal influenced body of work yet.  

Your paintings seem to have become much darker in colour since your earlier work in 2002. What's behind this change?

Well, I think the recent diet of doom metal might have something to do with it. Thick and heavy blackness punctuated by moments of abrasive sharpness have certainly been pushed to the forefront by thinking about the dynamics of this sort of music. But it has been a slow and natural evolution. If you were to make a flick book of the work from the last ten years it would probably animate from light to dark quite seamlessly.  Around 2002 the work was very sickly sweet and by 2008 it had become almost nuclear white. 

The work is obviously influenced by what is happening in my life. My dad’s death in 2009 had a hugely significant effect on what I was making. The whole experience was intense and life changing. This really focused my interest in themes like evolution, archetypes, deep time, mortality, rituals etc. The big stuff came into sharp focus and I needed to somehow tackle this through my work. It may seem like a cliché but a move toward darkness seemed appropriate. 

I like the idea of things appearing out of a void – it reflects how I approach painting. I’ll see how things progress, maybe the “light” will come back around again to reveal more of what is hidden in the shadows, or maybe there will be a total eclipse….  

Same As It Ever Was will run until this Saturday 26 July. 

Charlie Smith London, 336 Old Street, 2nd Floor, London EC1V 9DR 

Images courtesy of the artist and the gallery