On Writing

"Every fine story must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure, a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer's own, individual, unique."
Willa Cather

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Portrait of an Artist: Gerald Morgan

Through the years, Gerald Morgan and I have worked together on a number of projects.  Recently, he mounted a show of his paintings and asked me to write a biographical sketch to be printed as a brochure for visitors.  This piece follows below.  We have a further connection with the publication of my latest novel, Grace, the cover provided by Gerald.  A link to Gerald's website is at the conclusion of the piece.

    The ball cap, the well worn jeans, even the restored ‘68 Ford Fairlane, all belie the soul of this artist who confesses a love of classical music, the ballet, and books.  Gerald Morgan has the nature of a modern renaissance man, who is moved by the various arts.  But it is from the magic of his mind that he produces art of his own, the beautiful landscapes and waterscapes, the arresting figures of “Danse Suite,” all of which take center stage in his creative life.  A family man, Gerald has a wife, Judith, now retired from her work in education and involved in writing a local history; two children and four grandchildren.  His Irish heritage seems evident in his slight but wiry build, his reddish, curly hair now muted with gray, and his bright blue eyes, interested in and observant of the world around him.
    A Nashville native, he frequently visited the Parthenon Museum as a young man and was taken with the art of George Gardner Symons and Chauncey F. Ryder.  He still values them as having “exuberant energy” and able to express “visual poetry” through their paintings.
    Though Gerald has traveled extensively through the years, it was some early world travels that became an important inspiration for his own art.  He happened to view exhibitions of the works of Auguste Rodin and the paintings of Spanish artist Joaquin Sorolla, both of whom were to become profound influences.  Especially does he value Sorolla, who remains in Gerald’s lexicon as a true master of brush and paint.
    The aspiring artist began to explore in earnest what he had discovered even as a youngster to be a most compelling interest.  During the 1970s he received valuable art instruction from Anton Weiss, Rita Sutcliff, Carl Coniglio, and Walter Stomps.  Gerald’s concentration on art bore fruit when he won first place at the Tennessee All-state Competition for one of his watercolors.  Then he received a purchase award for an oil painting at the J. B. Speed Art Museum’s “Eight State Annual, Painting, 1982” in Louisville, Kentucky.  After this encouragement, he consciously decided to make art his full-time career.  By now he had developed his trademark painterly realistic style.   
    At the outset, Gerald’s focus was on waterscapes with a forty-canvas “Untitled” series.  He claims that he was so moved by the music of Debussy he tried to put that mood on canvas.  This was followed by landscapes, later characterized in a newspaper article from a one-man show at the Oak Ridge Arts Center and Museum of Fine Arts as being “. . . often executed in shapes that could hardly be considered traditional.”  Gerald feels that music has played a role in his designs, particularly in his earlier works, which was influenced by such composers as Mahler, Vaughn Williams, Debussy, and Brahms.  To this day, he continues to enjoy these composers as well as the strains of Celtic music.
    In 1994, a fortuitous introduction through a business associate brought together Gerald Morgan and a visiting Frenchman.  A friendship as well as important art connections developed, and Gerald’s artistic reach began to extend to another continent where it continues to the present.  His first visit to France gave him a new perspective for his work as he describes the scenery, the people, and the towns as being unique to his previous experience, their vibrancy particularly exciting.  He has shown his paintings in several galeries in Western France, where he has received considerable publicity and accolades.  
    Through the years, Gerald Morgan has given time and energy not only to painting, but also to drawing, which he considers “the heart and soul” of an artist and as the most intimate of mediums in the visual arts.  To date, he had over 500 drawings to his credit.  Of special note are the figures in ballet poses, for his “Danse Suite,” mostly executed in charcoal but a few also in oil on canvas.  Not since Degas has a subject been more fully explored as in these studies.  A critic says that many of the paintings depict the dancers as “fragile flowers,” a characterization no doubt suggested by Gerald’s interest in garden settings, his own garden being another passion of this artist.
    Despite the enormous quantity of drawings, his landscapes and waterscapes in oil comprise what is most often identified as Gerald Morgan’s seminal work.  To date, he has completed over 250 paintings.  Many of these are very large, measured in feet rather than inches.  When asked why so large a size, he says that certain subjects call for an extensive rendering and in addition, large canvases are “a challenge” that he enjoys.  And the sense of pleasure in his work pervades this man’s outlook as evidenced in his work.
    Like most artists, he is driven to paint and draw, guided by his vision, but unlike some artists who seem almost tortured as they grapple with their Muse, the influences on Gerald Morgan’s work–nature, whether in the raw or cultivated; the human body in graceful poses; and music and musical themes–give him peace.  Those who know him recognize his personal attributes also to be a contributing factor: he is true to his art, his family, his friends; and he is honorable in his dealings with others.  In short, Gerald Morgan is a gentleman who happens to be an artist.  Gerald Morgan Website

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