Morgan Display takes off


by Kate Paulman

Artist Clarence Morgan is kind of like a pilot flying without instruments. Morgan compares his creative process to that of a pilot flying blind in that they both rely heavily on intuition. The only difference, he says, is “this is low risk- nobody dies when I create.”

Morgan starts his vibrant paintings without a set plan.

“It’s kind of like going on a journey without a map,” Morgan said. He often just “lets things happen” when painting and will sometimes work on more than one painting at a time. Morgan said he follows his intuition while painting and the final product often ends up very different from the first strokes on the canvas.

This fly by the seat of our pants type of creation led to the brilliant, lively paintings on display now at Farnham Gallery.

Justin Nostrala, gallery director and assistant professor of art, said that having an established artist like Morgan displayed on campus lends a sort of legitimacy to the art department.

“This helps people to see really refined work,” Nostrala said. “Since he has been working for such a long time, his work is more mature and high quality.”

Morgan, a professor in the art department at the University of Minnesota, was not originally interested in artwork. He was more interested in baseball until an injury while playing for a semipro team took him out of sports.

After that, Morgan began creating his spontaneous canvases. Nearly all of Morgan’s paintings have a square grid at the heart of the design.

“You could strip down this building and the framework would be a grid skeleton,” Morgan said. “It’s like having a good bass line to build on.”

On top of the grids, Morgan uses a variety of techniques, colors and patterns to create eye-catching compositions. The variety of his creations can be linked to different environments in which he paints. He will usually listen to either jazz or classical music when painting.

“Classical music is very structured,” Morgan said. “Jazz has a structure too, but it can be a lot more fluid.”

The type of music playing can have an effect on how the painting turns out. This musical influence is obvious in some of his work. “Excavating Mythology” seems to have a jazz undertone whereas “Vernacular of Pleasure,” a much larger piece, is more structured and similar to classical music.

For other inspiration, Morgan said that he looks to life.

“Just to wake up each day and be alive is my base inspiration, I think that’s enough,” Morgan said. “That should be enough inspiration whether you’re doing this or raising pigs. There’s some kind of cycle that’s been around longer than men, there’s something rejuvenating about plant forms. That’s all the inspiration I look to.”

While Morgan does find art fulfilling, he said he has another reason for working.

“I want to do these paintings,” Morgan said. “But it also keeps me out of trouble. You don’t get a lot of respect when you say you’re an artist, but they don’t think of you as a villain either.”

Morgan’s artwork is on display until March 28 in Farnham Gallery.