I try to attain precision, refinement, ambiguity, and a sense of the organic through a preoccupation with textural surface.
George Morrison was inspired by nature. Encouraged by his Chippewa heritage and their philosophy, Morrison believed nature to possess a magical and spiritual vitality. He sought to express this vitality through his art. His paintings and wood collages contain abstract images of trees, rocks, rivers, and sky. A repeating theme in his work is the horizon line, a long-time fascination for the artist. He based his paintings, drawings, wood collages, and sculptures on it.
Morrison painted this piece, Sun and River, in his early years as an artist. It is a perfect example of his style, which features abstract and broad geometric shapes in semi-recognizable forms. The landscape seems to be divided into four horizontal sections: the first section across the bottom is a river, with multi-colored angular and curved shapes; the second is a landscape or possibly a river in connecting lengths of color; the third is a landscape meeting with the horizon line having an intersecting sun’s halo; and the fourth is a skyline with a rose-colored sun in the center.
This painting was purchased by Plains Art Museum in 1991 after the Standing in the Northern Lights: A George Morrison Retrospective exhibition of 1990.
I never play the role of being an Indian artist. I always just stated the fact that I was a painter, and I happened to be Indian.
Morrison was born in Chippewa City, near Grand Marais, Minnesota, in 1919. He grew up on the Grand Portage Indian Reservation, and after high school, received loans and support through the Consolidated Chippewa Agency to attend the Minneapolis College of Art Design. There he studied with Frances Greenman and Alexander Masley, who encouraged Morrison to focus on developing his fine art skills. They also introduced him to current trends in modern art, from Bauhaus design principles to the works of Matisse and Picasso.
After graduating in 1943, he received the Vanderlip Traveling Scholarship, which allowed him to travel to New York City. He then joined the Art Students League, an organization that enabled students to practice modern concepts and ideas about art, unlike the rigid academic art institutions. There he studied with the Russian-American artist Morris Kantor. In 1952, Morrison received a Fulbright Scholarship to study abroad. He attended the University of Aix-Marseilles in France and was able to travel to Spain and Italy. Morrison returned to the United States a year later, having received the John Hay Whitney Fellowship, further allowing him to concentrate on creating art.
Morrison taught at many art institutions, both in Minnesota and on the East Coast, including the Minneapolis School of Art, Iowa State College, Cornell University in New York, Pennsylvania Sate University, and the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio. He was offered professorships at both the Rhode Island School of Design and the University of Minnesota.
Although Morrison is often compared to the work of Jackson Pollock, some art historians have continued to overlook Morrison’s work and the many contributions he has made to the art world. Despite this, Morrison’s work was exhibited at many well-known and prestigious museums during his lifetime, including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Plains Art Museum in Fargo, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, the Grand Central Modern Gallery, the Touchstone Gallery, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of the American Indian all in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Toledo Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, and many more.
George Morrison passed away on April 17, 2000.
George Morrison, Sun and River, 1949, watercolor and crayon on paper, 15 3/4 x 21″