In creating Descent, Chatham-based painter Lily Morris, 36, was inspired by François Lemoyne's The Apotheosis of Hercules, a mural at Versailles that depicts the Greek hero being inducted into the ranks of the gods by his father Jupiter. "I love this painting as an aesthetic feast," Morris says. "It's a cosmic snow globe, and Versailles itself is the Barbie penthouse of 18th-century France. The completion of the mural earned the artist the title of First Painter to the King, yet the artist killed himself shortly thereafter. I find the contrast of fantasy power play and the stark reality of lived experiences fascinating with regard to this painting's history."
Stark realities indeed: While Covid raged, Morris's son was born two months premature and then she had to overcome life-threatening health issues herself. (Both Morris and her son are healthy.) The chaotic state of her life and the world affected her mindset. "Global politics bulged with unfathomable doom as it still does today. Descent became a meditation on freefalling and a kind of transformation from old stories of strength and power," she says.
Descent also brings to mind the heavenly perspective of Italian Renaissance painters, something that Morris absorbed while studying in Italy. "I wandered throughout Florence awed by the sheer mountain of life force captured in paint. That experience showed me what sheer creative commitment and discipline can produce while cultivating a heightened desire for my own voice and personal momentum," she says.
Morris's work has been featured on Netflix and other television shows, placing her classical expertise in a 21st-century context. It all began when she had a solo exhibit on Martha's Vineyard in her mid 20s. "The man who was transitioning the novel Bird Box into a screenplay saw my work. Scott Frank, writer of The Queen's Gambit, spoke with director Susanne Bier. They decided to change Sandra Bullock's character into a painter and fill her studio with my work. Bier continues to bring me on to Netflix and HBO projects to this day. It has been a wonderful and deeply collaborative experience," Morris says.
Morris grew up on Martha's Vineyard before its current popularity as a posh vacation destination. "It was rather feral. We were children with matted hair, feet trained to cling to rocks, life dictated by the weather more than any other force," she says. "My parents made documentary films about global poverty as we lived humbly amongst the mounting vacation hysteria that is Martha's Vineyard today."
She landed in Hudson in 2015 with no friends and started a series of seven paintings for a collector. She met her husband at the Hudson Sloop Club, then a nascent community sailing organization. "My need for culture and nature made the Hudson Valley the perfect home, and its nautical history created a sense of familiarity," she says. "It has given me the grand arc of my adult life, and I feel like I am just beginning to see what incredible magic and people it holds."