Editor’s Letter | Native Modern

A major retrospective honors artist George Morrison

By Kristin Hoerth

Spirit Path, New Day, Red Rock Variation: Lake Superior Landscape (1990), acrylic/pastel on paper, 22 x 30. Collection Minnesota Museum of American Art.

Spirit Path, New Day, Red Rock Variation: Lake Superior Landscape (1990), acrylic/pastel on paper, 22 x 30. Collection Minnesota Museum of American Art.

Two supremely talented Native American painters are featured in this month’s issue. Mike Larsen, whose heritage is Chickasaw, is noted not only for his paintings but also for his murals and monumental sculptures in Oklahoma, as well as for the Living Elders Project, which consists of 48 portraits of the Chickasaw Nation’s oldest surviving members. Nocona Burgess is the great-great-great-grandson of Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, whom he has painted along with many other Native American people. Burgess has works in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and frequently lectures on Comanche history and culture.

As we celebrate these Indian artists in our pages, the distinguished Native American modernist George Morrison [1919-2000] is being celebrated with a major retrospective exhibition. Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison features nearly 80 drawings, paintings, prints, and sculptures spanning Morrison’s 60-year career. “George Morrison was both a major American modernist and an influential Indian artist,” says W. Jackson Rushing III, curator of the exhibition and a distinguished professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Morrison’s work brings together inspiration from the natural world and the world of art. He was born in Minnesota in a Chippewa Indian fishing village near Lake Superior, and that heritage remained an important influence throughout his career. But after graduating from the Minneapolis School of Art, he moved to New York City to study at the Art Students League from 1943 to 1946. There he befriended abstract expressionists such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, showing his work with them as well as in one-man shows. His work incorporated elements of expressionism, cubism, and surrealism.

In the 1960s, Morrison became a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, during which time he began creating monumental collages using found driftwood. In 1970 he returned to his homeland when he took a teaching position at the University of Minnesota; here the collages evolved into a series of monumental wood sculptures he called totems. He later began painting small abstracted landscapes that became known as his Horizon series. Morrison made hundreds of these improvisational, spiritual paintings.

Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison is organized by the Minnesota Museum of American Art and Arts Midwest with the Plains Art Museum, where it debuted last year. It opens on March 29 at the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, where it runs through September 14; it then travels to the Heard Museum in Phoenix and the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.

Featured in the April 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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