Tom Morin: Number Six

Tom Morin: Number Six from the Zen series, abrasive belts and wood

Tom Morin: A Life of Art — High Relief Sculpture, A Gallery Santa Fe, 154 W. Marcy St. Suite 104, 505-603-7744; through March 24

Traditional tribal arts serve as reference points for Tom Morin’s eclectic sculptures. The circular compositions on painted shields of some Native American tribes, many embedded with colors or lines to indicate the four directions, inspired Morin’s Shield series. In addition, many of Morin’s sculptures seem to draw from woven fiber arts. Morin’s work is made from repurposed materials. Specifically, he incorporates abrasive belts and discs used for sanding and grinding into his sculptures. Selections from his Shield, Spirit Icon, Zen, Sky Window, and Mesa series are on exhibit at A Gallery Santa Fe.

The remarkable variety of colors of the belts — natural hues from wood resin embedded in the abrasive coating used in the industrial materials — and discs provides the pigmentation in these pieces. Morin does not apply additional paint but has a painter’s eye for color relationships. These are unique sculptural forms. The pieces in the Mesa series are layered collage works for which Morin has cut strips of abrasive belts and arranged them into striated landscape patterns. Diagonal lines etched into the material evoke distant rains over mountainous terrain. The earthy colors lend themselves easily to the look and feeling of Southwestern topography, and the worn, discolored areas of the strips to dusty clouds. The Mesa works are the most representational and two-dimensional on display, although they are rendered in slight relief because of the layering and buildup of materials.

The works in the Zen series are minimally patterned geometric abstractions with balanced compositions. The elegance of the overall designs contrast with the abrasive materials with which they were constructed. Another contrast is the additive construction process itself — Morin employs materials generally used in subtractive applications. The belts and sanding discs are mounted on curvilinear wood bases, lending undulating form to several pieces. He does some studio work on site, offering visitors a chance to interact with him and see his working process. Morin’s use of secondhand materials with a lot of wear and tear adds variation to the overall symmetrical designs of the Zen series. The differences between the sculptures’ raised sections and recessed areas allow for shadow play in changing light conditions.

The larger works, those from the Zen and Spirit Icon series, were influenced by Morin’s travels. The Spirit Icon series was begun after a visit to Odisha (formerly Orissa) in India during the festival of Danda Nata. He captures a sense of tribal aesthetics without adapting specific elements or copying its forms. Tribal influences are seen through a contemporary filter. These sculptures are composed of basic rectangular, circular, and semicircular shapes. They have a meditative quality — particularly the Shields, which, because of Morin’s application of concentric circles, recall the mandalas of Hindu and Buddhist art. Research into neuroaesthetics, the scientific study of aesthetic experience, suggests that humans have a predisposition to symmetry as an evolutionary trait. Pleasing proportions are the bedrock of Morin’s art.