L. Scooter Morris is an artist with a noble mission: she wants to make art that brings people together. Her practice is to take commonly used symbols and add layers of detail that deepen them, that make them personal as well as universal. She presents issues and ideas that can be divisive, but she includes enough artistic material — color, symbol, surface texture — to allow viewers to see the works through their own beliefs and experiences. For Morris, resolution is possible, and the resolution found in viewing art offers the opportunity for “repair, reconciliation, and healing.”
Morris comes by her talent through both nature and nurture, blessed as she is with strong forebears, natural ability and access to a trove of resources. Her family life was full; busy parents, four siblings, and countless cousins and friends made for a rich childhood. Her determined mother earned a PhD while raising five children.
As a young girl Morris once looked at a dish towel and imagined it transformed into a stylish carry-all. She presented her idea to her grandmother, a skilled, self-taught seamstress, who “could have made nearly anything.” Recognizing a rare talent in the child, Morris’ grandmother and mother promptly enrolled her in art lessons.
Her hometown of Pittsburgh had excellent resources for art education, notably programs at the Carnegie Museum and the public-school system. Morris went on to attend the renowned Tyler School of Art at Temple University. She moved west and eventually obtained a BFA from the University of Southern California, followed by post-graduate work at UCLA. She arrived, finally, in New Mexico, drawn by the atmosphere and environment of this unique place.
Once here, her work began to evolve. She developed a technique she calls “sculpted painting.” She uses mixed media, including fabric and acrylics, to achieve an “integration of color, light and texture with many surface variations.” This can be seen in her landscape paintings, where this technique allows her to build up rich layers of subtle details that are only revealed upon close inspection. It suggests an aging process, giving the works a feeling of topographic layers.
Morris’ ideas and techniques have earned the attention of collectors far and wide. In 2014 several paintings from her Flag Series, including The United States of Gun and Another American Flag, were selected for display on the twenty-five-story Times Square billboard. Morris says of this remarkable experience, “I was excited and intrigued by the reaction to those pieces, as they are American flag paintings, and people were remarking how genuinely moved they felt upon seeing that work. There was a sense of need for that expression of an American identity, and people of differing backgrounds all felt as if this image was speaking to them.” Since then, the work has been projected in many museums, including a painting projected at the Louvre in Paris and at the Saatchi Gallery in London as part of an art exhibition centered on The Rolling Stones band.
Perhaps most personal to Morris are the Heart Images, and among these is a painting titled The Impossible, a tribute to her mother. The title refers to her mother’s life-long philosophy, “The impossible just takes a little longer.” Morris calls them “the motivational words my mom would say to her five children on how to be a good person and how to live a good life.”
The painting consists of a three-by-three grid, recalling the childhood game of tic tac toe. The grid is filled with evocative symbols. In the middle top and middle bottom squares we see the sun and moon. In the center row of the grid, the left and right are stars. These squares are anchor points, four unchanging entities by which we can orient ourselves. In the center is a flag, and on it are inscribed her mother’s inspirational words about achieving the impossible. Each of the four corner spaces contains a heart. Morris names them: laced heart, flourishing heart, broken heart and restored heart. To let the eye wander over this painting, over these aspects of the heart, is to take a symbolic healing journey. It is a work that conveys deep gratitude.
Morris’ most recent work is a series of paintings exploring money, especially its power as an evocative symbol. She says, “Everyone has a different relationship to money. What it means, what it connotes, how it changes people and their relationships.” She has incorporated these money symbols into her other imagery, embedding them in her landscapes, blending them with flags and hearts. Some of the pieces have a sense of humor, according to Morris. Some are straightforward statements left to the viewer’s interpretation. As with all her work, Morris hopes the viewer will discover that “. . . in that ultimate moment of sensory experience there also exists a glimmer of hope, the promise of something bigger than we are.”
For additional works, see ecstaticsun.com.
Kevin Paul is a multimedia artist with a penchant for running trails. He is a long-time resident of Albuquerque’s South Valley, where he and his wife, Kayla, watch migrating birds and tend their garden and orchard. He has spent many years in and around the Santa Fe art scene.