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Galveston Monthly

Jack Morris - A Retrospective

Jul 01, 2019 02:44PM

 If as Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius mused in the 2nd century, “the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts,” then the soul of beloved Galveston artist Jack Morris a veritable rainbow.

  “I have had a very good life,” says Morris, 78, a former architect who permanently traded his sketch pens and trace paper for brushes and canvas in the mid-80s and never looked back.

  “I’ve had so many good people in my life, some very good people - the best, in fact, including my son Charlie and his wife, whom I adore. I've also had a successful career in architecture, and then some very good years as a painter. I tried my best to create a narrative in my work. It’s been good.”

   Morris, who was diagnosed five years ago with end-stage COPD and now is in hospice care at the home of his son, Charles, is universally credited with founding Galveston ArtWalk, a strolling art exhibition that spotlights commercial galleries, nonprofit art spaces and area businesses that promote the arts by using wall space to spotlight local artists.

 

 His work, the subjects of which vary from Galveston landmarks and architecture to New Orleans nightlife, coastal Texas, and other areas, has garnered critical praise and has been compared to Edward Hopper and John Singer Sargent.

  Morris’ work has been featured in Architectural Digest and Southern Living magazines, hangs in private collections throughout the world, and in 1994, his painting of the Hendley Building in Galveston was exhibited at The National Gallery in Washington, D.C. He is perhaps best known for his paintings of Allan Jaffe’s world-famous Preservation Hall Jazz Band in New Orleans.

  “I loved painting the old musicians in New Orleans, the founding members of Preservation Hall,” says Morris who feels a kinship with Edward Hopper, widely recognized as the most influential realist painter of the 20th century.

  “I painted them so often that I got to know them. It was real nice. We had some great conversations. They’re all gone now. The last of them, Narvin Kimball, a banjoist, died shortly after Hurricane Katrina.”

  Morris will be honored both for his body of work and his support of other local artists during July’s ArtWalk. The event is from 5:30 to 9:30pm Saturday, July 13, at Third Coast Gallery, a 2,500-square-foot father-son partnership at 2413 Mechanic St. in the downtown Historical District.

  “Charlie and I just felt it was time to do this,” says Betsy Campbell, who manages the gallery as well as her own business next door, Betsy By Design. “We have a number of Jack’s original oil paintings still remaining here at the gallery, but I also felt it was important to show works from some private collections, such as watercolors from the early- and mid-1990s before Jack moved into working mainly in oils.”

  The event will include a guest painter Daniel Elliott who will offer on-site painting demonstrations, live music by George Hayden, and light refreshments. 

  The celebration begins with a Patron Preview Open House from 6 to 8pm Thursday, July 11. The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. Morris hopes to attend.  

 Campbell says the retrospective of Morris’ work is meant to underscore how much he means not only to the city of Galveston, but also to those who have been touched by his work. To gaze at a Jack Morris painting is to see the soul of the man standing at the easel, she says. And that man is a hellava good guy.“His artwork reflects Jack: what you see is what you get. He’s direct, honest and fiercely loyal to his family and loved ones,” Campbell says. “He cares about his friends and family and does not hesitate to express his thoughts or feelings.”

  Longtime friend and fellow artist Richard Kelver says Morris was the unseen force behind the careers of many local artists, including his own. “His ideas and involvement in the Galveston arts helped a lot of artists,” says Kelver.

  He met Morris in 1989 while bicycling in Galveston. “I was a sign painter and illustrator at the time, with a fine art studio in the back rooms of my mind. Jack gave me my first show. After that show, I never painted another sign."

  "Without Jack's support who knows? I won't attempt to describe our friendship other than to say we are ‘brothers.’ Even in his waning days, he can make me belly laugh. I can't predict how Jack will be remembered by others. I will always remember him as my friend. We had a good ride.”

  Morris says he is proud to have played a role “however small” in helping local artists to get in touch with the artist within. Ask anyone in the art community and they will tell you Morris is responsible for launching the careers of hundreds of artists. “I’ve tried to encourage artists. It’s so important to support talent. It’s never too late,” he says.  

  “There’s more to life than a bank account. Money is not important. As long as you’re happy, and you’re surviving and taking care of your family, you’re good.”

  Jackie O’Dell first visited Galveston in the late 70s, and at that time, “you’d never put the word art and Galveston in the same sentence,” she says. 

 “That all changed in the mid-80s when Jack Morris opened his first gallery on The Strand. I remember, and it changed everything. Now, there are so many amazing galleries on the Island. It’s so great for tourism, not to mention local talent. Think of all those people on the cruise ships that dock in Galveston, and the exposure these artists get now. I’m sure Jack Morris had no idea what he would start, but I’m sure glad he did.”

  Jack Morris downplays his hand in helping to establish Galveston’s vibrant art scene, but he is delighted that so much local talent is firmly in the spotlight where it should be. Richard Kelver, Rachel Wiley-Janota, Joseph Henderson, George Campbell, and Eddie Filer are among his favorites, but there are “many others,” he says.

  “George out on the west end does marvelous wildlife pieces, and I love Eddie Filer’s work. It’s mostly classical portraiture, and it is astounding. There’s one hanging in my gallery now of a homeless man that is stunning. And he is one of the nicest people I know. I absolutely love him to pieces.”

   Charles Morris says his father’s hand can be seen throughout the island - through his architecture, his art, and his support of others like him who feel the need to express the artist within. “I knew my father was a talented and respected artist from an early age,” Charles says.

  “I would have to pinpoint the time frame that I knew my dad was doing something incredibly special was when I saw the first New Orleans series…His legacy as an architect and the projects he designed is no different than the amazing art that he has produced and is displayed in homes throughout the world.”

  Watching the light of life within his once vital father diminish has been difficult to bear, but it is the very essence of vitality found within his father’s art that lifts him from his most anguished thoughts of the inevitable loss.

  “I love my father very much. His health decline has been very difficult for me personally, and when I see one of his paintings it makes that moment a little bit better,” he says.

  “I have many favorites. However, if I had to pick one it would be the piece titled ‘Mosquito Fleet.’ I remember the day - vividly - that the images were taken for this piece, and the others that were in that series. It was a good afternoon spent, and a lot of great pieces came from that outing. I really like the Preservation Hall pieces and the memories I have as a kid on our trips to New Orleans and seeing the Preservation Hall legends, such as Narvin Kimball, who my dad painted.”

  The elder Morris knows the canvas that is his life is nearly complete, and he has come to terms with the inevitable adventure we all must take. He is proud of his two sons and their families, the friendships he has made, and the architecture and art he has created.

  “I have met many great people, and we made great memories,” he says. “For example, years ago, my ex-wife Christina, who is still one of the greatest people I know, and I went to a gallery that was having an exhibit of Edward Hopper’s work."  

 "I was the first one in. I was looking at this painting called ‘Seven A.M.,’ and I had my nose on the wall, as close as I could get to the painting, to see the brushstrokes. I just wanted to see how he applied the paint. Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around, and it was the curator with the head of security. I said to him, ‘I’m not touching it,’ and the curator says, ‘we noticed. But you may, if you wish.’ I wiped the tip of my finger to get the oil off, and I just barely touched it."

  "Hopper was very stingy with the paint. I am, too, but he was somewhat of a minimalist, compared to me. He was superb. Amazing. I thanked the curator, who then said to me, ‘I could tell you are an artist,’” Morris says. “It meant a lot to me.”

 

What: Galveston ArtWalk, retrospective and celebration of Jack Morris’ work

When: Patron Preview Open House is 6-8 p.m. Thursday, July 11; 5:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 13

Where: Third Coast Gallery, 2413 Mechanic St., Galveston

Cost: Free and open to the public

Info: 409-974-4661, thirdcoastgalleries.com