Epson enhanced matte paper
Courtesy of the artist
Chet Morrison’s surreal photomontages, tinted to appear like hand-colored 19th-century photographs, show sinister ministers, men on wild flying machines, fez-wearing entertainers, and the owner of a very strange creature, half man-half stork, standing out in the middle in the desert. Morrison digitally weaves pieces of the salvaged antique photographs he collects into stunning landscape backgrounds of his home state of Texas to create new hybrids of fantastical imagery.
Despite their fantastical elements, Morrison laces social commentary throughout his work. Images like The Capitalist are critiques of the Gilded-Age robber barons—the top hat, waistcoat, pocket watch, and fob are all symbols of affluence. In contrast, the cigarette-smoking death’s head appears against stormy skies, a vulture circling in the background to remind us of the terrible human costs of gathering riches. Morrison conjures Balzac’s warning that “behind every great fortune lies a great crime.”
Many of Morrison’s figures appear beleaguered in their strange landscapes. The bookish looking man in Stuck in a Bad Situation is washed-up on shore and under threat from Lilliputian attackers peddling flying machines. His Ventriloquist holds up a large bowie knife against some perceived threat, even as he literally cradles death in his arm. Morrison’s use of skull imagery suggests the influence of Mexican culture associated with the Day of the Dead. His work is a fascinating fusion of the long reach of the Victorian aesthetic across time and space, from the drawing rooms of London to the outposts of the Western frontier.