A Brief Biography
John Morrell, a native of Albany, NY has painted and taught in the Washington, DC area for over 40 years. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Georgetown University and a Masters of Fine Arts from George Washington University, and subsequently taught in the Art Departments at both universities. From 1984 to 2002, he was the Gallery Director and a Visiting Professor at Georgetown University. Having been awarded promotion and tenure in 2008, he is now Associate Professor of Painting. From 2009 to 2015 Prof. Morrell served as Chair of the Art and Art History Department. He now coordinates the undergraduate Art Program within Georgetown’s Department of Art and Art History.
April 1979 marked Morrell’s first solo exhibition of landscapes, done in Brittany, France. Since then there have been 26 other one-person exhibitions, many group exhibitions, and numerous commissions for private and corporate collections.
In 1980 the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum acquired Chateau IV, a mixed media work by Morrell. Willem de Looper, then Curator of the Phillips Collection, awarded “Best in Show” to Reverie, a grisaille landscape from the Athenaeum’s Fourteenth Annual Juried Show in 1984. The United States Postal Service chose the artist’s depiction of Healy Hall for a postcard in 1989 as part of its Historic Buildings series. In 1994 Morrell received a Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Fellowship to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. In 2004 he was a Visiting Artist and Guest Lecturer at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where he presented a retrospective exhibition of drawings, From the Ground Up. The year 2005 saw a solo exhibition of landscapes at Galerie Lee in Paris and in 2006, Prof. Morrell was invited to exhibit at New York’s Sherry French Gallery.
Over the last ten years he has primarily exhibited with Atlantic Gallery in New York City and with Addison/Ripley Fine Arts in Washington, D.C. In 2014, soon after his one-person show, Domestic Landscapes, at Atlantic Gallery, Morrell was invited to exhibit seven works at the American University Museum’s exhibition Neighbors. In 2017 Morrell was awarded an Art Research Residency at Campion Hall, Oxford University, UK. Prof. Morrell spent five months painting on site in Oxford, and studying landscape drawings and paintings at the university’s Ashmolean Museum. His most recent work is executed both as wash pastoral landscape drawings heightened in white, and in paintings of nature within the modern urban environment.
My work investigates various relationships to nature in urban and non-urban environments. The urban spaces depicted hold a recurring presence of nature built on the differing European and American traditions of landscape art, both past and present.
Yet even while working in France and England, I studied these differences in the context of common contemporary urban settings. My recent work often reflects nature’s presence in parks, yards, and between buildings. Structures like fences and walls that bound the growth of foliage are incorporated in my vision; I am often drawn to what I cannot see. In contrast, I also return to what has characterized the American tradition, the unspoiled landscapes or “wilderness” that inspired earlier artists. Thus, my work includes a strong historical landscape tradition as well as contemporary concerns and issues of our environment and perceptions of our surroundings.
I frequently draw and paint directly on site, basing my work on direct observation. The distinctive character of on-site work lies in the meditative and observational process over time. Stillness, and the absorption of different aspects of a place over time, shapes my vision. This contemplative quality invests my work with an intimate observation that even a visual recording on film or disk cannot convey. As I become immersed in a place, my selectivity, my choices of what to record on canvas or paper, shape my art. The contours of light and shadow dissolve the boundaries between the man-made and natural; I pursue palpable senses of light and air. When I choose to use photography as a tool, I do so as a reminder of place and time. I strive to recreate my sensate experience, and to transcend the two-dimensionality of the photograph. Although painting the landscape from direct observation may seem to create a more realistic depiction, my experience even then is a subjective response to the landscape.
I believe the defining aesthetic of my work comes from my subjective response to sensation in particular moments and places, rather than fidelity to an “objective” rendering.