Elemore Morgan, plein air painter
by Doug MacCash, THE TIMES-PICAYUNE
Artist Elemore Morgan Jr., renowned for his fiery depictions of the prairie landscape around his Acadiana home, died Sunday at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore of complications after heart surgery. He was 76.
Morgan influenced generations of artists during his long professorship at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Ogden Museum of Southern Art chief curator David Houston said that only weeks ago, Morgan stood on the museum’s fifth-story terrace, painting the shifting colors of the cityscape directly from nature.
Plein air painting, as the outdoor technique is known, is a style “deeply rooted in tradition,” Houston said. But Morgan was not purely a traditionalist. The colors that appeared on his palette went far beyond reality.
“Instead of producing a landscape given by the eye,” Houston said, “he gives it to us filtered through the prism of emotion.”
The oddly shaped Masonite cutouts Morgan painted on, which could take the form of ovals, airfoils and mushrooms, were part of his expressiveness. He would carry the large panels with him into the rice fields around his Leroy home to paint.
“Some of the oval ones suggest expansiveness, taking the long, low horizon line and opening it up even more psychologically for the viewer,” Houston said.
In a 2006 interview, on the occasion of his Ogden Museum retrospective, Morgan elaborated on the point.
“This might sound kind of cosmic or mystic,” he said, “but one of the things that excites me about the prairie is that it””s 80 percent sky and 20 percent land. Much of what you see is sky, it’s a great dome. When you paint out here, you can feel the Earth falling off to either side. . . . I swear, in my own little backyard I can almost feel the shape of the planet.”
Morgan was an only child, born in Baton Rouge in 1931. His father, Elemore Morgan Sr., was a distinguished commercial photographer who toured the state on various assignments. Morgan studied with modernists Ralston Crawford and Caroline Durieux at Louisiana State University, graduating in 1952. He served in the Air Force during the Korean War, and attended the Ruskin School of Fine Art at Oxford on the GI Bill, becoming the first American graduate.
Returning to Louisiana, he worked as a commercial artist and teacher, becoming a professor at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in 1968, where he taught until 1998.
As a 6-year-old, Lafayette artist Francis X. Pavy was taught to mix colors by Morgan in a children’s art class. Later Morgan became his drawing professor, and later still the two became peers, serving on various art committees and panels. Pavy fondly remembers Morgan’s gentlemanly attire and attitude.
“His role to me was as teacher,” Pavy said. “I hope to emulate his joy and even temperament. He was always a voice of moderation.”
In 2007 Morgan received a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant that allowed him to travel to New York City, where he painted the Manhattan skyline, lending it a certain Bayou State feel. Those New York paintings are among Morgan’s works on display at the Arthur Roger Gallery through May.
Survivors include his wife, Mary Morgan, a jeweler and ceramics artist; three daughters, Lucia Saperstein of Jacksonville, Fla., Olivia Morgan of St. Martinville and Emily Morgan of Leroy; and three grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete. Call Arthur Roger Gallery at (504) 522-1999 for information, or check online at http://blog.nola.com/dougmaccash.