The “Magic” of Morrison

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“Lake Superior Landscape” by George Morrison

That’s how one of his friends and fans describes the nature of his work: “magic.”

I happened upon a room of George Morrison’s art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) last spring. I liked what I saw. I really liked what I saw. But I like it even more now that I know more about the man and the story behind it.

Among our local public television station’s online archives is a special documentary on Morrison: “The Art and Life of George Morrison: A ‘Beyond the Book’ Special.” Born out of the award-winning book Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison by W. Jackson Rushing III and Kristin Makholm, and a collaboration between the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library and TPT Twin Cities PBS, the program does an excellent and elegant job of describing Morrison’s life and legacy. Here’s what I learned:

How it began – As a young boy, Morrison became very ill at age 8, even to the point of having his hip removed and bones fused together to help ensure his survival. It was during his convalescence that he began experimenting more with art and discovered his true calling as a fine artist.

Artist first – Though some were tempted to peg Morrison as a Native American artist and to expect certain qualities of his art given that label, he was undoubtedly an artist first. He studied in the Twin Cities, then New York, then Paris, completely fascinated with the process and any opportunity to attempt different methods and styles. Abstract, modern, expressionist—he was a master of all of these genres in and of themselves, and in combination, and more. That’s not to say that Morrison’s ethnicity didn’t play into a lot of his subject matter. It’s there, but in unique, even surprising, ways.

Unsentimental – No matter how much time and energy Morrison invested in a project, he fought sentimentality, believing that selling his work would offer more opportunities to do even more work. However, there is one piece with which the family has never parted: a painting that has hung over their oldest son’s bed since he was a young boy.

Found objects – I absolutely love Morrison’s wood collages. The documentary shows footage of him strolling the shores of Lake Superior with armloads of driftwood. By cutting and sanding and arranging these found objects, he would make the rather earthy and woodsy become rather metropolitan and contemporary—like magic.

I can’t wait to visit Morrison’s work again with a better understanding of its origins. I can’t wait to dig into Modern Spirit. And, as always, I can’t wait to see how my exposure to yet another accomplished artist inspires my own creativity and further learning.

 

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Confused Misfit

I love when two different resources cross my path around the same time and seem to communicate a similar or resonating message. In other words, I love common threads.

During this past week, it was through public radio and public television that I was reminded of the beautiful otherness, even the chaos and mess, of enjoying and contributing to the world of art…

“Confused” – On a drive home from northern Iowa on Saturday night, my husband and I tuned into Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and the Live Wire radio program, a non-profit venture to acquaint artists with their audiences, and vice versa. I was particularly taken with program guest Roger Reeves, a poet whose latest collection On Paradise will be released soon.

Reeves proposed that there’s a genre of incredible art that sparks a feeling of confusion, a sense of not knowing what we’re seeing or reading or experiencing in any sense. This is what produces exhilaration, joy, appreciation.

Reeves went on to say that the process is often just as confusing for the artist as the interpreting is for the audience. There are times, he said, when he writes something only to come back to it months later with any kind of understanding of what was surfacing through his sub-consciousness. There are also times he gains no understanding whatsoever, but this doesn’t discount the artistry of his poem.

“Misfit” – I mentioned the “American Masters” series on PBS in my last post, and I have since watched two-and-a-half episodes, the half episode being about Eva Hesse. “The true artist is also the true personal misfit,” she wrote in her journals. In other words, what made her work and perhaps her whole personality especially interesting and rich—and simultaneously sad, some might say—was Eva’s feeling “different, alone, and apart from others.”

Though the world pressures us to glamorize sameness and to follow the crowd, the making and appreciation of good art seem to celebrate unlikeness and the option to travel narrower paths. So feel free to call me a “confused misfit.” I’ll take it as a compliment in my creative journey.

 

An Artist’s Bookshelf – September 2018

So it’s not all books this time, but I can’t wait to dig into the resources I’ve got ready for the coming month…

Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order) by Bridget Quinn & illustrated by Lisa Congdon – This book provides a natural segue into my continued creative discussions with my friend Tami over Skype. We finished A Glorious Freedom recently (we both give it glowing remarks), and by Tami’s recommendation, we’re trying Broad Strokes next. It just happens to be illustrated by Lisa Congdon, author of A Glorious Freedom, and the first pages of our latest book quickly reveal Quinn’s wit, creativity and breadth of knowledge.

Wyeth (PBS) – I can’t tell you how pumped I am to watch this film tonight on PBS! I’ve been fascinated with Wyeth’s work ever since being exposed to it through Coursera.org’s “Modern Art & Ideas” class and the fictional book A Piece of the World inspired by Wyeth’s painting “Christina’s World.” And I obviously have some catching up to do with the entire American Masters series “Artists Flight.”

The New Yorker – Through a sweet deal I spotted on Facebook, I’m getting twelve issues of this popular art-filled magazine for just $6. The first article I read today—“What We Know About Art and the Mind” by Paul Bloom—introduced me to a book that will likely make a future bookshelf post: How Art Works by Ellen Winner. More on that—as well as other New Yorker discoveries—later!

What I Did This Summer

A number of months have passed since my last post, but I wouldn’t say it’s been any kind of lazy-days vacation; I’ve continued to enjoy my adventures in creative discovery and dabbling. Here are my top 5 artistic memories from Summer 2018:

Writers Workshop at Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts – For its third year, Banfill-Locke hosted its writers workshop, this time around the theme “Tending Your Word Garden.” Through three breakout sessions, plus a collective reading at the end, I enjoyed fellowship with other writers, tested out some new techniques, heard some great work, and shared some of my own attempts from the day.

Art-a-Whirl – Wow! WOW! How did I not hear of this event before? Throughout Northeast Minneapolis, hundreds of art studios open their doors to the public. I didn’t take to the streets but spent all of my time in the Northrup King Building where floor upon floor is devoted to the making and selling of art. Before the next Art-a-Whirl next spring, I hope to go back to Northrup King on a first Thursday for a mini Art-a-Whirl.

“Loving Vincent” movie – I’m not sure how I came upon this film, but it was available at my public library and ended up being worth the watch. The storyline takes place a year after Vincent Van Gogh’s death and delves into his fragile mental health and strained relationships. But most fascinating is the fact that the entire movie is an oil painting in motion!

Crochet Along for a Cause – Led by Breann of Hooked on Homemade Happiness, hundreds of crocheters, including myself, are making “chemo caps” for people in cancer treatment. Every week for 14 weeks, Breann releases a pattern that we all try our hand at making in the colors of our choice. It’s fun to see all the different renditions posted on the group Facebook page.

Scarf selling at Banfill-Locke & Etsy – I finally got the ball rolling! Over the past several months, I’ve also crocheted dozens of thick and cozy infinity scarves—and now they’re officially for sale. The gift shop at Banfill-Locke is now carrying a few of these pieces, and my new Etsy shop, “By Hand by Barb,” is open for business. Watch for more products to be added over the coming months as I continue to claim my place and share my voice in the world of art!

Artist Date: Pour Painting – May 19, 2018

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A dry canvas and mixed paint are ready for my first pour painting project.

Pour painting. It seems to be all the rage right now, and classes are popping up all over the place for people to try their hand at it. That’s how my husband, Terry, and I decided to explore the technique.

We found a class in Stillwater, Minnesota, led by Sharon Weiser, an accomplished painter and art instructor. Terry and I spent a couple hours with Sharon testing two different kind of pours.

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Terry tilts his canvas to arrive at swirls and cells of different colors.

The first pour was on a dry canvas. Using acrylic paint, a flow agent and water, we mixed a few different colors until smooth and drippy. Upon achieving the right consistency, we added just a few drops of silicone to each mixture. Before pouring, we layered each color into a new cup, not stirring it, but allowing the colors to sit upon each other. Then we poured the paint and tilted the canvas to see what design and “cells” would appear. A blow dryer helped with developing the latter.

The second pour was on a wet canvas, which means we applied a thick solid color of paint on the canvas before mixing and pouring like we did the first time around. It was amazing to see how this simple extra step changed the effect pretty drastically!

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My finished pour painting projects, one on dry canvas and one on wet.

The cons of pour painting? It’s pretty messy, and you never know how it’s going to turn out. The pros? You never know how it’s going to turn out—there is joy in surprise! Terry and I look forward to experimenting some more, even using some of our old house and wall paint and possibly trying some different surfaces—metal, wood, etc.

In addition, I couldn’t help but notice that the older students at our daughter’s childcare center are doing some pour painting on three-dimensional block sculptures. That would be fun, too!