Arts / Galleries

Surrealism in Everyday Life Takes Centerstage in Houston — Abelardo Morell Pushes the Dreamy Limits

Taking Viewers Into Unforgettable Dreamscapes at Foto Relevance Gallery With Photographs That Thrill and Haunt

BY // 08.18.23

Stepping through the looking glass into an oddly surreal dystopian world has exposed us to strange realities in recent years. Still, we learned to adapt during the challenging journey. Artist Abelardo Morell, whose “Liminal Spaces” show remains on display through next Saturday, August 26 in Houston at Foto Relevance, truly embraces this journey.

Possessing an adventurous spirit, Morell employs various artistic techniques to present an unseen world with a warped, dream-like irreality. Obviously an heir to Corot, he sometimes employs the obscure hybrid cliché-verre process using glass plates to produce images. Having been born in Havana, Cuba and residing in Massachusetts, Morell’s work brings magical realism genius Alejo Carpentier to mind.

Both Cuban creatives seem to have mastered the art of imagining and constructing other worlds.

Known for his camera obscura works, Morell has perfected the process of transforming and reconstructing environments. First attributed to 5th Century Chinese philosopher Mo-tzu, the term camera obscura translates to “darkened room.” PaperCity art guru Catherine Anspon describes it as “light passing through a pinhole device, transposing the projected images upside down.”

The technique has an extensive history. Leonardo da Vinci sketched camera obscura, as later documented in the artist’s Codex Atlanticus. Johannes Vermeer’s name often comes up in speculative camera obscura discussions. The 17th century Dutch Baroque painter’s Rijksmuseum exhibit sold out in two days earlier this year with more than 650,000 attendees.

In his work with camera obscura, Morell has graduated to using a tent-camera fitted with a periscope. Undoubtedly inspired by Vincent Van Gogh, Morell recently traveled to Arles, France to photograph locations evocative of the painter’s spirit. Using a tent-camera, he traveled the Post-Impressionist painter’s footsteps. He also used a tent-camera to photograph Impressionist painter Claude Monet’s garden milieu in Giverny, France.


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Clearly, Italy — land of vino rosso, Rino Gaetano, Felliniesque environs and writer Italo Calvino — also inspired Morell as a muse. Three of the seven works displayed at the Foto Relevance gallery depict views of Italian sites. He captured the camera obscura work Garden with Olive Tree Inside Room with Plants, Outside Florence Italy (2009) with extreme clarity and precision.

Captivating the viewer, Morrell presents a verdant outdoor scene dominated by trees projected into a room with flowers sitting atop a table. Incorporating naturalism with sensibilities of an en plein air painter into his work, he achieves a kind of interior escapism by bringing the outdoors inside. It inspires a closer look at The Olive Tree of Peace and olive groves of Tuscany.

Morell also introduces Renaissance-era Italy with View of Villa Entrance in Blue Gallery, Villa la Pietra, Florence Italy (2017). Presented within a contemporary context, this camera obscura work suggests a juxtaposition (and dichotomy) of nature with man-made treasures. The Tuscan hills are certainly just as powerful and majestic a sight as the ornate statues.

Abelardo Morell's camera obscura work<em> View of Villa Entrance in Blue Gallery, Villa la Pietra, Florence, Italy</em>, 2017. (Courtesy Foto Relevance)
Abelardo Morell’s camera obscura work View of Villa Entrance in Blue Gallery, Villa la Pietra, Florence, Italy, 2017. (Courtesy Foto Relevance)

Equally stunning and perhaps the highlight of the show are Morell’s tent-camera images. In fact, his Flowers for Lisa #49 (2017) is a beautiful visual love letter to his wife Lisa McElaney. As he states on his website, “Our love for each other — in all kinds of weather — grounds my resolve to be hopeful and vital, even when I may feel challenged to do so.”

Inspired by a visit to the Floret Flower Farm in Washington’s Skagit Valley, Morell gives flowers of all hues center stage. The petals featured in the foreground are breathtaking. The level of clarity and detail is incredible. Flowers pictured in the background have that Monet-like Impressionistic blur effect.

In contrast, Morell’s night time view of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is decorated with plant life. His View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Yates (2012) is also an example of the environment reclaiming its territory. Again, the detail of the leaves in the foreground is stunning.

Abelardo Morell's tent-camera image on ground work <em>View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Yates</em>, 2012. (Courtesy Foto Relevance)
Abelardo Morell’s tent-camera image on ground work View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Yates, 2012. (Courtesy Foto Relevance)

Morell’s ability to move between different worlds and realities makes more sense when you discover which books he has illustrated. His surreal versions of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are sublime.

Significantly, what Abelardo Morell achieves with his unique art is a gift to viewers. A chance to step through the looking glass.

The solo exhibit Abelardo Morell: Liminal Spaces is on view through August 26 at Foto Relevance at 4411 Montrose Boulevard. Learn more here.

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