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.

 

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!