Meet the curator
Ikon presents a major solo exhibition by British artist Mali Morris. Calling includes nearly 30 abstract paintings curated by independent curator and writer Sam Cornish, author of the monograph Mali Morris: Painting. We asked him a few questions about himself and how he met Mali.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in South London, where I still live with my wife and two boys. I work as a writer and curator, with a particular interest in abstract painting and sculpture. As well as independent projects, I also work for The John Hoyland Estate. I’m busy at the moment. Projects coming up next year include a display of Hoyland ceramics alongside contemporary sculpture at the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol; an exhibition of the sculptor Garth Evans in Irapuato, Mexico; a show of sculpture by Tim Scott in APT in Deptford, South London; and in the Autumn a version of Mali Morris’s exhibition Calling will travel to the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle.
How did you get into curating?
I was occasionally taken to galleries and museums as a child but my family had no connection to the art world, and no sense it might be a job. I think I got into art when a group of books from my granddad came to my parent’s house after he died, mainly mass-market books on the Impressionists and the Cubists. I was about twelve and spent quite a lot of time looking at the pictures.
I studied history of art at Cambridge and Leeds but really my interest in curating came through working at Poussin Gallery, a commercial gallery that promoted abstract painting and sculpture, mainly from a generation who came up in London in the 60s and 70s. Robin Greenwood, who co-founded Poussin and was a major influence on me, died earlier this year. I hope his real contribution to abstract sculpture can be recognised. I started to write about the artists at Poussin and then began to curate shows, including a show of John Panting in New Zealand and a survey of mainly abstract painting and sculpture of the 60s for the Arts Council Collection. It seems to me to make sense to come to curating through immersion in art, rather than viewing it as an independent discipline that can be studied by itself.
How did you meet Mali Morris?
I met Mali properly in 2008 when she showed at Poussin. I wrote the press release for the show, which she said was the best one she had had on her work. We both tried to find it recently but without any luck. I remember there was a line which went something like “Morris’s paintings have the quiet authority of a well constructed sentence.” I remember being marginally involved in hanging the show, at least I think I suggested hanging a small painting by itself in a large space. It subsequently sold, which I like to think I helped with. We’ve remained in touch ever since and I wrote the main text for the 2019 monograph on her paintings, published by the Royal Academy.
What was your experience like installing the Mali Morris exhibition at Ikon Gallery?
There aren’t many things more pleasurable than arranging paintings in a space, especially one as beautiful as Ikon. As Mali has said it was a real collaboration and it all seemed to flow very easily, helped by the great technicians and everyone else at Ikon.
Sam Cornish and Mali Morris, Ikon Gallery (2023). Photographer Tegen Kimbley.
Mali Morris, Calling, Ikon Gallery (2023). Installation view. Photographer Jo Underhill.