Dick Morrill - Biography
Dick Morrill makes narrative paintings, portraits and bas reliefs, capturing in highly charged images the spectacle of social folly and vagaries of the personality. His work both critiques power relations, and examines the inner lives of individuals. Using bold colors and fractured forms, Morrill in his art is both an expressionist and a humanist.
Morrill was born in 1927 and grew up in the Boston area. His family nurtured his strong, early interest in making art. His father was, for a period, a commercial artist, and as a youth Dick attended Saturday morning art classes at the Museum of Fine Arts. From childhood, he had the good fortune of having a role model in his cousin, the Boston painter Philip Hicken. After serving in the Navy during the war, he went on to study illustration and painting at the Cambridge School of Design.
During his school years Morrill was exposed to art that would be a foundation for the development of his own art. There was in the late 1940s the presence of Boston Expressionism, a style exemplified by the work of the social realist Jack Levine, Hyman Bloom, and Karl Zerbe. Morrill absorbed from their examples, the melding of social content, vigorous paint handling, along with figurative abstraction. Levine was a particular role model with his post-war critique of militarism and satires of political corruption. And like Levine, Morrill was influenced by the color-infused paintings of Georges Rouault and Oscar Kokoshka. The idea of creating advanced art with a social spirit was also fired by the Mexican muralists, Rivera, Siquieros and Orozco.
While in art school, Morrill discovered the work of Max Beckmann in a museum exhibition of his work at Harvard University. In Morrill’s work we see a reflection of Beckmann’s interest in cryptic allegorical narrative. Morrill’s portraits reflect the work of two other artists central to his development. Evident is the influence of Paul Klee in the use of line to create whimsical and psychologically revealing images. From Rembrandt’s faces, particularly his late self-portraits, Morrill learned the possibility of creating searching, penetrating paintings of the inner self.
After moving to New York in the early 1950s, Morrill worked for an advertising design firm before founding his own agency representing illustrators and photographers. For most of his working career, he managed to work in his studio whenever possible. He also taught at Pratt Institute and Parsons School of Design, and established several overseas art programs through the State University of New York. At Parsons Morrill was given the opportunity by his chairman, Chet Kalm, to teach several classes entitled "Interpretive Figure". Currently Morrill is at work on a book based on the extraordinary nature of those in-class experiences.
During the 1950s and 1960s Morrill created a series of sculptures of abstracted figures carved in wood, plus cold cast metal and paper mache. In the mid-‘60s, influenced by the Vietnam War, Morrill began working on politically-charged images. With these painting, the artist saw his mission to “question authority”, and started the complex, narrative paintings that are the focus of his ongoing practice. In the 1990s Morrill entered a new phase with his painted portraits and the parallel sculpted bas reliefs. These works combine the social self with an examination of the private self, as revealed in faces with a complex, faceted topography.
Morrill has recently shown in one-person exhibitions at the Foreman Gallery, Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY; New England College Gallery, NH; Fairleigh Dickinson University, NJ and Barrett Fine Art Gallery, Utica College, NY and the Banana Factory, Bethlehem, PA. Upcoming one-person exhibitions include the Danville Museum of Fine Arts & History, VA, Anderson Center for the Arts, IN and the Lawrence Gallery, Rosemont College, PA.