At first glance Jedediah Morfit’s intricate narrative reliefs have an innocent, whimsical quality about them. The cartoonish characters— articulated with elegant white silhouettes of plaster — feel like a postmodern, graphic take on Josiah Wedgewood reliefs. But nothing in Morfit’s world is that simple. If viewers choose to linger, they’ll soon discover a landscape pulsating with the paralyzing anxiety of our age.
“I think I have some unconscious urge to disguise the underlying angst in the work by expressing it with this very decretive, pretty surface,” says Morfit, a professor of sculpture at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. But then he stops himself and laughs: “How very WASP-y of me! I guess I have a pretty dark worldview, but somehow I was taught not to burden others with it?”
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In one of Morfit’s large-scale reliefs, a female figure walks across a sea of human carnage and detritus, protecting her bounty with a Wesson .357. Somehow Morfit has managed to depict this scene with his signature playful flair. But look a little closer: The figure — “Mad Meg” — is actually grafted from a 16th century Pieter Bruegel painting.
“The figures in my pieces are all informed by desire. Everything is stealing or trying to grab from something else,” explains Morfit. “For me, I see the increased stratification between the rich and poor in this country as a kind of return to Breugel’s era. It’s not something new. We’ve been here before.”
At Jedediah Morfit’s latest exhibition, opening tomorrow night at the Sculpture Gym, viewers will be encouraged to create their very own relief. The artist will affix magnets to some of his distinctive characters and place them on a stainless steel wall — an ever-morphing Morfit of your own creation.
“This is a very labor-intensive project. People think of it as being very deliberate, which it is in some respects. But it can be very playful and spontaneous,” the artist says. “I wanted to give viewers access to the spontaneous play that experience when I put these things together.”
Jedediah Morfit: ‘Flat as Hell’
Philadelphia Sculpture Gym
1834 E. Frankford Ave.
Opening Aug. 2, 6-9 p.m.