Food for thought, and a feast for the eyes

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Iva Morris and Brian O’Connor are abundantly gifted artists whose skill and talent are obvious to even the most artistically naive. They use their brushes and paints to render feasts for the eyes and food for thought. Their paintings are thought provoking.

The contrast between the two painters is stark. Morris’ colors are plucked from fields of wild flowers, while the overall hues of O’Connor’s paintings stem from the deep, rich tones of Earth, bedrock and soil.

His paintings evoke subjects people too often choose to deny, such as the dismal consequences of political malfeasance and civilization’s destruction of the natural world.

“My paintings have been called narrative before, and I think that’s probably a good description of it,” O’Connor said. “The content can be narrative, and more often than not, it’s along social and political lines.”

Morris focuses on women’s lives and relationships in her vibrantly colorful paintings, and also creates pastels of local landscapes.

The couple has made their whole life a work-of-art from the home they live in, to the food they eat, to their contribution to their community, and the elementary school they helped establish.

“Art is nothing more than the people that you love, and the place where you live,” Morris said, quoting Andrew Wyeth. “And so it is.”

The couple was one of the forces behind the creation of La Promesa Elementary School in their community. They organized with other community members to collect data door-to-door to present proof of the need for a school to the Belen Board of Education.

After three years, the school was finally built, and they also lent their time and talent to create the beautiful mosaics that decorate the school with depictions of local history.

“Mark Woody worked with Brian and I to design and complete the ceramic murals at La Promesa,” Morris said. “He basically taught us how to do the mural.”

Morris was also the resident art teacher at La Promesa in 2002-03.

“I think that teaching, and watching children make art is the biggest inspiration and motivator for me,” she said. “Their energy and imagination is incredible. I never want to stop teaching art to children.”

Morris took up drawing early on in her own life.

“I just always drew,” she said. “I just always liked to do art.”

In high school, she tried to take art classes, but somehow ended up in drafting and chorus instead, she said.

“I always had to do the signs, you know the stuff for the pep rally, and stuff like that,” she said. “And then … I used to sell portraits of people’s boyfriends.”

With the help of her high school art teacher, she got a scholarship to go to a summer program at St. Mary’s College on the Chesapeake Bay for three weeks when she was a junior.

“That’s really the first art classes — real art classes — I ever had, and I just decided I really want to do this,” Morris said. “But in college, I majored in history. I ended up taking art at the end, and getting a degree in art education.”

In 1981, after receiving her bachelor’s in art education at the University of New Mexico, Morris taught art and was accepted into various artist-in-residence programs, painting murals with children around the state.

She had her first show in 1983. She was working for an adobe brick maker to pay her rent when she was invited to exhibit in a women’s show organized by women at UNM and local professional women artists.

“It was in the basement of the downtown public library in Albuquerque,” Morris said. “It got reviewed and some press. After the show, I was asked to show at Kron-Reck Gallery, and scheduled my first show. I was 25. That’s when I really started selling my work.”

Morris and O’Connor met at UNM while earning their degrees. After they married, they started looking for a house to buy. Prices drove them to an ever-widening circumference of the area until they found the house in Las Nutrias, Morris said.

The couple has two children, a 23-year-old daughter, Lillie, and 15-year-old son, Garrett.

Garrett was a student in La Promesa’s first kindergarten class.

Morris has also taught at Albuquerque Academy, the Santa Fe School for the Deaf, Elida Municipal Schools and Gil Sanchez Elementary. She was involved in the design and production of murals at the Santa Fe and Elida schools.

Currently, she teaches art and history at Cottonwood Valley Charter School in Socorro.

Both Morris and O’Connor have received several awards for their paintings, and have been publicized in art journals.

Currently, O’Connor is working on a series of etchings commissioned by the city of Albuquerque, and he has a show at the Preston Contemporary Art Center in Mesilla.

He has lectured at universities as a visiting guest artist, conducted painting workshops from San Diego to Santa Fe, and taught at the Harwood Art Center in Albuquerque.

He attended UNM on a wrestling scholarship for two years, before transferring to the Centro Andino in Quito, Ecuador. It was during a “walk-about” year traveling around Ecuador and Peru that he began to make art, he said.

After coming back to the states, he worked in construction to finance his return to UNM to earn his degree. He won the School of Fine Arts senior art award, and was given a one-person show. That’s when his art career began to take off.

“I was right out of school, I had a couple shows in Albuquerque, and then I got a gallery in L.A. and Santa Fe, all sort of at once,” he said. “It was kind of the end of the big art boom of the ’80s.”

O’Connor has worked in construction with his brother, Sean, since he was 15-years old, he said. He has worked in private and commercial construction, and today enjoys partnering with his brother in a small, creative remodeling business of their own.

Spanish painter Diego Velázquez had a big influence on O’Connor.

“I actually got to see a show at the Metropolitan (Museum of Art) in New York of real paintings of his,” O’Connor said. “It was just unbelievable.”

R.B. Kitaj, an American painter, is another painter O’Connor greatly admires.

“My mom actually taught art,” O’Connor said. “She was an art teacher so, that’s probably how I became aware of it (art).”

“She’s 80 and she goes to five drawing groups a week,” said Morris. “She teaches classes still.”

His Scottish mother, Clairborne “Mikey” O’Connor, had a pre-digital era graphic arts business in Albuquerque where she handpainted lettering, and his father, John O’Connor was once the mayor of Los Ranchos.

Before learning formal drawing and painting in college, O’Connor improvised and drew from streams of consciousness. After years of painting dominated by his formal instruction, he began to experiment with improvisation again.

“Petroglyph Park was sort of a return to the way I had started to paint,” O’Connor said. “It’s a big canvas, I think about 9-feet long, 6-feet tall, and I just took a big piece of canvas and stapled it to the wall in my studio. I just started working on it from the middle, drawing on it, and painting.”

He has continued to add to it after every show, so it seems it’s never done, he said.

“The content derives from the feeling of impotence in the face of ludicrous behavior by the people that are supposed to be in charge, and maybe trying to foreshadow what could be the world in the future.” He said.

O’Connor hopes his visual dialogs will inspire people to change civilization for the better.

He has shown at the Denise Roberg Art Gallery in Palm Desert, Calif., the Gescheidle Gallery in Chicago, and for years gave workshops and classes at the Harwood Art Center, Albuquerque. He still does classes by appointment.

The painters both have an upcoming show at Billy Shire’s gallery, La Luz de Jesus in Los Angeles.

Iva has paintings displayed at Act 1 Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Taos, Hunter Kirkland Contemporary in Santa Fe, and Sumner & Dene Gallery in Albuquerque.

Check out their work on their websites at www.ivamorris.com, and www.brian-o-connor.com, or call 864-8336 for more information.

 


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.