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James Morton does excellent pastels. As with any virtuoso, methods and materials are no barriers: technique is so well-honed as to be instinctive, and invisible, which gives the artist a liberty for whatever inspiration presents itself. All of Morton's pastels are done in the studio, from models he has chosen. He is intent on what he sees and develops his response.
Pastel is a perfect medium for James Morton to capture human form and balance. Its spontaneity is possible only after a prior severe discipline. Pastel is raw pigment, bright, translucent, responsive, undampened by binders or glues; it somewhat glows as viewed from different angles. Employed with deft expertise, it is a living improvisation; but, a misstep, a correction, and it dies in smudginess and mud. Fixatives dull and kill its liveliness. Morton uses no sprays. His pastel works capture a model, so to speak, 'on the wing,' live and in a sitting.
James Morton's pastel work might be regarded as studies -- warmups for his paintings. (Until the late 18th century, this was the received judgement for the medium.) However, they stand in and of themselves, revealing an estimable shorthand of immediate observations, which seize upon the character specific to each model.
One examines Life Drawing (17) or Life Drawing (26) (both: 1999) and the fluidity of light, falling, and reflecting in altered hues, is the foremost sensation, even before the curves and volumes of the human form. It is an idiom very distinct from Morton's work in oils, but it too imparts the awareness that the artist is, like virtuosos in music, interpreting, not documenting.
Part of Morton's interpretation of the female form (although he sometimes treats the male nude) is a deliberate play of his subject, a human and imperfect reality, against the fact of its transformation to an object of contemplation. (That we tend to accept naturalistic image as real sight sparks long debate, particularly in 'Magic Realism' and photography.) But in Morton's art, the raw exaggerations or obsessive selectivity of a Lucien Freud do not enter in. Nor does the latter's harsh aesthetic of the 'Naked' (as contrasted with 'Nude') find support. In none of James Morton's work does one expect the overtones of line and flat contour, draughtsmanship, which suffuse much work by both Paul Cadmus and Stanley Spencer. In his oils, Morton is a painter's painter; and with pastel, the nature of chalk and texture of paper dominate the act of drawing. Content is visceral; and its implications are left to the viewer.
The strong, unselfconscious command of media and technique in James Morton's art mirrors his interest in the body as itself an expressive means and, in Morton's aesthetics, a vehicle of sublime, sensual geometry. Kenneth Clark, in discussing Matisse, noted the gentle power which lies in such a sensibility: "...the antique scheme had involved so complete a fusion of the sensual and the geometric as to provide a kind of armor...," as the French say, a cuirasse esthetique. Clark further notes that, without the cuirasse esthetique: "...either the nude became a dead abstraction or the sexual element became unduly insistent." James Morton's nudes, in any medium, are never ratiocinated abstractions nor are they truly libidinous.
In all his art, James Morton seems to reverse Yeats's 'mythological poet': He begins with solid flesh, and creates a phenomenon that hovers in and about our act of viewing; it resonates beyond image and physicality, through the artist's own perceptions and examinations. The artist himself has noted: "Our modern world view has 'narcissistically' gone so far as to deny the very existence of the body and its feelings." There are philosophies premised on how physicality informs our personality and our being. Art such as Morton's affords more subtlety, and joy in its explorations and effect -- strong and enduring -- and becomes distinct and personal for each viewer.
Many of Morton's most recent oils on canvas reveal a tendency toward confined composition, and at times an almost muralistic balance of forms and mass. But in the pastels, one also discerns a increasing, heightened awareness of contour; an alertness to implied, almost abstract, forms and volume submerged within the body's structure as seen. In Life Drawing (12), what is omitted or abbreviated from the torso, is nonetheless implied in the essentials captured. James Morton's art is subtle: it gains a gentle power and beauty by nuance and sensitivity in technique and treatment. In our age of raw and exaggerated philosophies of art, contortions of experiment, cerebralized equivocations and jockeying for quick celebrity ... James Morton's art, one confesses, is a profound pleasure.
James Morton was born in Cleveland in 1947, and early on studied in Zanesville, Ohio, with Charles Dietz, with whom he shared agreement for "the creation of images with formal beauty as the sole interest...." Morton continued his studies at Kenyon College; and at the University of Wisconsin in late 60s. He received an MA in Art History from the latter in 1971, and his MFA in 1973, after studies under Robert Grilley. He returned to Columbus, Ohio, in 1973.
James Morton's oil paintings and pastels will be presented for viewing and purchase at "Around The Coyote 2000," a festival of art in Chicago's Bucktown/Wicker Park, centered about Damen, North, and Milwaukee Avenues. Chicago. "Around The Coyote 2000" runs from September 7th through 10th. When that showing ends, James Morton may be contacted at the Milo Arts Building, 617 East 3rd Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43201 (Telephone: 614/ 299-0169: email firstname.lastname@example.org), or through Craig Smithberger (email@example.com).
Finis PART II/ Pastels
--G. Jurek Polanski