Many of us Delawareans know Cleveland Morris only as a director, but he’s been painting so long now that many others know him only as a visual artist.
“I’m lucky to have had two careers I’ve been absolutely enthralled by,” says Morris, whose latest show of still life paintings opens April 7 at Carspecken Scott Gallery. “And I’m awfully glad to be able to come back to Wilmington.”
First, a step back…
Morris, a native, was director of the Delaware Theatre Company from 1978 until 1998, which is how most Delawareans know him. He took studio classes at Delaware Art Museum as a boy, then studied art and art history in college—until he was “sideswiped,” he says, by theater. “After school, there was no time to pursue my love of painting and art.” He worked assiduously for 20 years as director at DTC. When he finally did find time to dabble, he took some classes at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. “It was like someone put the CD on pause,” Morris says. “I picked up right where I left off.”
His leaving DTC was followed by a move to Cape Cod, where he started painting seriously. A year later, a friend persuaded him to show Fred Carspecken his work. That led to a relationship with the owner and his gallery. A show ensued, which sold out before it opened. Morris got the idea that he might make his living through art.
After his year of painting—and writing—on the Cape, Morris moved to Staunton, Virginia, which he has called home for almost 10 years now. Though he teaches a bit and works part-time at the library, “I come as close to making a living through art as anybody can,” he says. His friends and neighbors there thus know him mainly as a painter, his theater days behind him for now.
“It’s a beautiful part of the world, really,” Morris says. “I love the charm of small town life and the proximity to the mountains. It is literally and metaphysically uplifting.”
And inspirational, apparently. Morris’ still lifes have a quiet gravitas created in part by a muted palette and a deceptively simplistic composition. He likes to think of each work as “invitation to contemplation, a moment of perfect silence.”
Those moments will never recur, but they will endure—just as 12,000-year-old cave paintings have lasted in Sicily. The urge to paint, Morris says, is primal.
“Man has been making images longer than he’s been leaving written remains. Look at kids. They lose themselves in this. We all have that, but it gets extinguished. For some people, it comes back. For me it came back.”
Both in the process of painting and the result, “There is something mystical,” Morris says. “It’s like a suspension of time.” He goes to work. “Then you emerge from the other side of the tunnel a few hours later.
“Plays are wonderful, but complicated,” he says. “You have to rely on lots and lots of people and it requires great resources. In this, I’m in charge all by myself. But like theater, communication has happened.”
See for yourself by visiting Carspecken Scott Gallery for “Cleveland Morris: Large” beginning April 7. The artist himself will attend the opening reception from 5:30 till 7:30. In all, 27 works will be on view, including all of the nine most recent. “Large” describes Morris’ turn to bigger works, so though this will be his ninth show at Carspecken Scott, it marks a bit of a turn for the painter. “I have been very busy,” he says.
Speaking of Plays…
Award-winning local playwright and Yankees fan Richard Gaw premieres his latest, “DiMaggio,” at OperaDelaware Studios April 8. The story is DiMaggio’s self-reflection at the end of his life, as imagined by the writer. “In the end, what I’ve attempted to write is the whole, sweeping story of an American hero,” Gaw says. Shows will be April 8-9, 14-16, at 8 p.m. Tickets will be available at OperaDelaware Studios on the day of the performance.
The Grand Opera House offers two great shows this weekend: On Saturday illusionist Jason Bishop performs his unique form of magic—brought to you in high-tech glory so skeptics can watch his every move—followed on Sunday by the Lakota Sioux American Indian Dance Theatre, with a modern take on native tradition. Both shows begin at 3 p.m. For more, call 652-5577, or visit thegrandwilmington.