Photo by Katie Greene/STAFF
On Sept. 8, the Bardo Arts Center at Western Carolina University held a reception for a new art exhibit showcasing the work of Joel Morris, which remained installed until Sept. 16. Not only was Morris an incredible artist that created with many different mediums, he was also an alumnus of the university.
Morris graduated from Western Carolina in 1973 with a degree in fine arts and pursued a lifelong career as a painter doing traditional art as well as outdoor murals. Unfortunately, he passed away in Feb. of 2014 from cancer.
Old friends of Morris were kind enough to loan his pieces and works that they had collected for the creation of the exhibit. They have even decided to put together a scholarship in his name. The “Old Hippy” Scholarship is intended to be an annual scholarship given to deserving students through the School of Art and Design.
Morris was truly a renaissance man when it came to his art and his artistic style. Pieces in the exhibit ranged from paintings and sketches to t-shirts and comics. The paintings themselves also drastically varied in style.
Works such as “Feet” portrayed a traditionally styled portrait of feet. The seemingly simple subject was given more depth with a sensual aspect given by the horizontal positioning of the feet, as well as what appeared to be bed sheets draped over the skin in the edges of the
picture. Another traditionally styled painting, “3 Pink Pigs,” depicted three cheerful pink pigs on a solid, dark background.
Another set of pieces depicted various musicians: “Sonny Terry Jazz Musician,” “Chuck Berry,” and “Jazz Pianist.” These are all portraits of musicians playing various instruments. At first glance, the paintings appear to be typical portraits, but with a closer look you can observe the clever and intentional use of color in each one that seems to be pulling upon the sounds that would be emanating from the pictures if they were to come to life.
“Sonny Terry Jazz Performer” shows the musician playing a harmonica. Small brush strokes incorporate bright colors like red, green, blue, yellow, and orange that could be associated with the bright and traditional sounds you would likely hear from a harmonica. “Chuck Berry” shows the musician playing his guitar in tones of blacks, whites and browns, almost as if a dark, vintage sepia lens was placed over the picture. Finally, “Jazz Pianist” incorporates very distinctive and realistic colors that also have a sort of cartoonish feel to them.
Other works in the exhibit portrayed darker subjects. One painting titled “Nuns” was of ominous nuns in a graveyard. Once again, color choices were very specific. Everything was black except for the grave, which was strikingly red and created a wondering about the death of the person it contained, and
the moon, which was yellow and illuminating. Another painting of a beaten face, “Untitled,” incorporated bright and uncomfortable colors. The large size of the painting and the extreme up-close feature of the face gave the piece a distressing, intense feel.
In addition, there were pieces that incorporated pop art or comic styles, and a glass case displaying various t-shirt designs, comics and posters.
The reception itself was very successful. Most art exhibit receptions at the Bardo Arts Center attract a small, yet decent crowd. This particular event saw a much larger turnout as people who knew Morris or were close with him all wanted to be there. The reception seemed more of a celebration or memorial for Morris and because of this had a very unique energy as compared to your typical art exhibit, especially in relation to past exhibits here at Western Carolina. Those in attendance stood around reminiscing about their college days, telling stories about Morris and others.
Overall, the event was a beautiful and thoughtful display in dedication to a beloved artist and friend.
For more information about Joel Morris, contact Western Carolina’s College of Fine and Performing Arts, which is located in 392 Belk Building and can be reached at 828-2277028. If you are interested in the art exhibits displayed at Western Carolina, visit the Fine Art Museum located in the Bardo Arts Center off of the Star Atrium.