Patrick Morrison arranges his compositions carefully using color to heighten the tension. In pictures such as “Nude With Bhodisatva,” two lurid green palm trees frame a fire engine red pool lounger and a scorchingly orange nude woman. At her feet crouches an ominous little statue while a blue violet stream of incense rises up and over her like a chilling thread.
The dark world of these expressionistic paintings is a pulsing, hot liquid lit with garish theatrical light and flickering neon. In this fluid environment of steamy hollow passion even stacked vinyl kitchen chairs seem to have carnal relations to the colorless drone of a TV love scene. The denizens of this underworld are decadent, with the cheap sensuality of Toulouse Lautrec’s tired whores. The edge in most of Morrison’s imagery seems to come from the tawdry color and the way the compositions create and confront the viewer’s voyeuristic attitude. At a blue movie in “Police Special,” a man turns defiantly to regard the viewer; in “Woman Disrobing by Fire,” there is a hint of another face in a mirror. Such calculated compositions mean that areas that fall apart, like the way Morrison lets hands fade away in “The Diver,” are unsettling. We are unsure if it’s weak draftsmanship or if the missing hands are symbolic. Perhaps in this dark realm people only look whole. They don’t have what it takes to reach for or give help. (Gallery 454 North, 454 N. Robertson Blvd., to April 14.)