Rebecca Morgan creates a collection of characters and types, a cross between Brueghel’s stylized peasants, R. Crumb’s winking harlots, “Deliverance”, and the inbred mutants of many a horror flick. Morgan takes her background in rural Appalachia as the point of origin for her personae – as they become uncultured tourists, or especially in her self-portraits, expatriate interlopers ambivalently negotiating their depiction. Morgan’s more exotic rednecks inhabit a rural America where people exist intimately and potently with the wilderness, a relationship which urbanites can only smirk at and envy. Nature is either wistfully idyllic – the idyl found in a margarine ad – or the scene of demonically perverse debauchery.
Morgan’s style fluctuates between hyper-detailed naturalism, reminiscent of Dutch painters such as Memling and Van Eyck, and cartoonish caricature, which pushes the imagery to a ridiculous, repulsive, even absurd dimension. Jagged teeth, furry brows, corpulent bodies symbolic of sloth and over-indulgence, and a general air of dirty unkeptness all exploit the demonization of the Appalachian. Internal traits come to the surface, and while Morgan exorcizes her country folk’s demons, ridicule mixes with pride and defiant celebration. In her alternately tender and aggressive depictions of herself, she bares all – a metaphoric exposure of her former rural character, or to prod the viewer to question their own position.
Morgan reveres Frans Hals’ paintings of happy peasants and Adrien Brouwer’s fighting, laughing, and drunk lower classes. Similarly, Morgan’s symbolic language and character types recall Dutch parables, which were meant to both entertain and teach a lesson to the middle- and upper-class patrons of such works. Morgan plays an intricate game of back-and-forth accusations: she panders to the same stereotypes that she herself contends with, and in a modern twist, acknowledges that she is laughing at the subject, the viewer, and our contemporary conflict of pining for a pre-cultural back-to-the-land utopia while sipping our Starbucks.