Friday, May 19, 2006
Gleason library exhibit features "people"
Spend five minutes talking to Noredin Morgan and you realize he has been capturing people all his life: first as friends and then as artistic subjects. He gives new meaning to the phrase "mixed media." Born, raised, and educated in Cairo, Egypt, the technically educated and cultured Morgan shares engaging anecdotes about his journey through life in the Middle East, Europe and America. You sense quickly that the personal relationships he has formed along the way have greatly impacted his development as an artist.
"Most of my paintings are figurative portraits made in a spontaneous, expressionist manner," says Morgan in his artist's statement. "I use mixed media on canvas, wood, paper, and other surfaces. Some of my figures might suggest a relationship, story, or other significant moment in time."
Morgan loosely calls his paintings "portraits." The subjects are often family and friends, but the people depicted might have a difficult time recognizing themselves. First, the painter admits that he idealizes the best features of his subjects and tends to leave out the bad ones. Second, his drawings are more about broad outlines and vibrant color than about specific detail. He acknowledges being influenced by modern masters Mattisse, Chagall, and Picasso.
Expressing feelings in portraits
"I express my feelings more than illustrate them," says Morgan. As such, his portraits do not carry the name of the subject but an idea or description, for example, "Alter Ego," "Double Take," and "Red Hat." Morgan claims he doesn't try to capture a subject perfectly. However, you know his outlines are true because you can quickly identify a self-portrait. The only portraits with names are those based on actual historical characters, such as "Eknaton" and "Faulkner," a piece celebrating Billerica's founder and industrialistone of five pieces commissioned by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Although based on actual people, many of the portraits have clearly been idealized. They share the same ancient-Egyptian stylistic features found in Roman Coptic works: stretched faces, long noses, huge eyes, and serious expressions.
The show, entitled "people," will run through June 24. Morgan has about 30 paintings on display, along with about 10 photographs by Hans J. Luwald in his "Land of Sheba" series. At the 11th hour, exhibition space opened up at the library when another photographer could not participate. Morgan suggested asking Luwald, a friend from the Billerica Arts Council, to share his photographs from Yemen that would act as a complement to his exhibit. Both artists will be on hand at a reception Saturday, May 20, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Gleason Library.
Mixing chemistry with art
As a youth in Cairo, Morgan was inspired by the great body of work left by the ancient Egyptians. He enjoyed sketching and drawing people, especially his mother who was the only model who would "take it." He repaid her patience by stealing the food colors she used to paint eggs. Morgan applied them as watercolors to his portraits. Although friends and relatives praised his artistic talent, he found an aptitude for science in school.
"I was always divided between science and art, science and art," says Morgan. He finally decided that if he studied art, he would probably end up a teacher and concluded that work in chemical engineering appealed to him more. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Morgan left Cairo to study agro-chemistry in Germany and Yugoslavia. He returned to Egypt where, ironically, he ended up teaching. He decided that to make his career he had to go to America, and arrived in New York City in 1969 just in time to "make Woodstock!"
At first Morgan lived in Greenwich Village and he paid bills by doing window decorations and copying art, as well as specification paintings to fit "particular dimensions" for clients. These works sold for a mere $5 to $10. Then he made the natural switch to commercial art where he could bring in his chemistry and business skills. He worked small jobs on Madison Avenue in photo-retouching and advertising. As a free-lancer, however, he realized he would not be able to earn enough money to support the American dream he saw around him.
Morgan returned to study chemistry at Columbia University and in his free time, he painted in the student center. He was working on a painting of a fish native to Egypt in the style of Klee when his English teacher spotted him, fell in love with the work, and eventually paid him $75 for it. Although some of his pieces sell for up to $2,000 today, he considered this his first significant sale. Nonetheless, the determined Morgan turned his attention to chemistry. He went on to Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute where he received a Ph.D. in Polymer Science. As one of the only specialists in the area of wax chemistry, he landed a lucrative position at W.R. Grace and came to Massachusetts. Eventually he became a research director at ITW, a local chemical company.
A resident of Billerica for the past 21 years, Morgan has attained that American dream of a home, car, and a family life, with a wife and three children. He now has a grandson. Still he found himself somewhat unsatisfied. He wondered what would have happened if he had stayed in New Yorkwhere his old friends now have their own "agencies." His career in chemistry lasted 25 years before Morgan had a heart attack in late 2002, an event that forced him to reconsider the stressful life at a chemical firm.
"I said, 'enough is enough,' and I'm a full-time artist now," says Morgan. He built a studio, and very quickly immersed himself in the local artistic community. In the past four years, he showed his work at numerous galleries in Lowell and Lawrence and competed in two juried exhibitions. He has participated in local art festivals, and shown at the Concord Free Library and the Billerica Public Library. He is currently showing his work at a museum in Lowell in addition to the show at the Gleason Library.
Stirring up mixed media
Morgan approaches each new piece in different ways, depending on his mood and source of inspiration. Occasionally, he adopts the more typical approach of a painter by taking an original sketch and developing it into a mixed-media piece. Although he readily admits he is not a computer expert, he finds manipulating images on the computer inspirational. For example, he takes an original scanned image and manipulates the image and enhances the color. He develops a unique background. He enjoys taking something that exists and then creating something new. He may create a print using the computer, and then paint new images on it. The artist also enjoys beginning a piece in a scientific manner.
"I use my experience as a chemist to come up with new media," he explains. "I approach my canvas as a scientist. I start my painting not with an idea, but with a material, such as an adhesive. I could use epoxy, oil, or dye."
Morgan has produced a great deal of work in his four years as an artist. He finds he has trouble saying a piece is "done," and often goes back, even taking pieces out of their frames not only to retouch them, but to add new elements. "Now I'm learning when to stop," he says, but adds, "not to say, I won't come back to it in five or ten years!"
A self-proclaimed colorist, Morgan enjoys painting in the morning. "I think light is a miracle," he says. "It's metaphysical." Aside from his focus on the human form, the background is a key component of a Morgan painting. "My background is not just space," he says. "It's a very important element."
Morgan's frames are eclectic; he tends to frame each painting individually. He tries to keep the framing costs low, and includes the frame in the purchase price of a work. His pieces on display at the Gleason range from under $35 to $600.
If you attend the Gleason reception with the artists tomorrow, you can compare Morgan's Coptic-inspired portraits with Luwald's photographs of actual people from Africa. Both the paintings and photographs share similar stretched faces and luminous eyes. Don't be surprised, however, if you find Morgan catching you in profile. He's always on the lookout for new subject matteralthough you probably wouldn't recognize yourself in the exaggerated result.
An artists' reception will be held at the Gleason Library tomorrow from 2 to 4 p.m. Please join Noredin Morgan and Hans J. Luwald who will be there to discuss their works.
© 2006 The Carlisle Mosquito