The “Magic” of Morrison


“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.



Artist Date: Minneapolis Institute of Art – April 13, 2018

A sneak peek into “Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art

What a jewel of an art museum we have here in the Twin Cities! How incredible that anyone can step up to an original Van Gogh, Monet, etc., free of charge any day of the week (except Monday when the museum is closed). An added bonus? A free docent-led tour at 1 p.m. whenever the museum is open—just meet the day’s guide at the main desk for an hour-long “highlights” tour of his or her choosing.

Here are the highlights of what I saw and learned during my most recent visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA)

Technique: Collision of art & theater
As an MIA member, I was able to score free tickets to the MIA’s featured exhibit “Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty,” which was conceived and designed by Robert Wilson, a theater director and artist. If you plan to take it in, I don’t want to give too much away—in short, it was a sensory treat complete with sound, artifacts, etc., and a new experience around every corner. I examined the walls of the exhibition space just as much as the items on exhibit. Go, go, go if you can!

Term: Automatic drawing
I happened upon a room filled with works by Minnesota artist George Morrison (more about him below) and fell upon the term “automatic drawing” in the description of one of his untitled works. In his artist statement, automatic drawing is defined as a technique “in which the artist’s hand creates a mark without thought or intention in order to access the creative imagination of the subconscious.” Despite Morrison’s unintentional approach to the piece, I love the balanced, seemingly planful result.

Artwork: “Dining Room in the Country” by Pierre Bonnard
Our docent chose to introduce us to pieces by artists who were contemporaries and friends of James Abbott McNeill Whistler (even though there are no works by Whistler in the MIA’s collection). As the docent suggested, it’s a painting that makes you want to take in a big deep breath in hopes to inhale the fragrance of the rich floral background. I, for one, would love to shove that cat to the side and take my place in that chair to chat with my visiting friend, knit a few rows, and enjoy the colorful surroundings.

Artist: George Morrison
Back to George Morrison… The variety of his work is astounding—from painting, to pen and ink, to wood collage. It seems like this man could make any medium ultimately resemble a picturesque landscape. It’s interesting to note that his artistic talents may have taken root during a fourteen-month hospital stay at age 10. He was recovering from surgery necessitated by tuberculosis, says MNopedia.

Takeaway: Automatic drawing & “Other Side of the Room” project
It goes without saying that I’d love to try my hand at automatic drawing; I’m going to test it using my black ink pens of various tip sizes. In addition, while viewing “Dining Room in the Country,” I was reminded of another interesting red room I had recently come across in my studies: “The Red Studio” by Henri Matisse. In my mind’s eye, I imagine the rooms depicted in both paintings as one! This got me to thinking… What other pieces of art would I pair together using similar logic? This question birthed yet another assignment for my growing list!