Beyond the Biology

One of visual artist Elise Morris’s current projects is paintings on small blocks of wood, which get wrapped with cellophane and sold out of cigarette vending machines as part of the “Art-o-mat” project. The project is based on the premise of taking art, “repackaging” it, and making it part of the daily lives of consumers. Art vended from the machine can be anything small enough to fit through the dispensing apparatus.

Morris, who grew up in Torrence, California (just outside of Los Angeles), attended the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she double-majored in art and environmental education. Her environmental education training fed into a two-year Peace Corps stint in the Dominican Republic where she spent much of her time painting murals in schools and community buildings.

“In developing countries, the environment is often the last thing on anybody’s mind,” Morris says.

She did a lot of painting, instead. 

“The classroom walls were concrete, so you couldn’t hang anything,” she says. “So I’d paint them, instead. Maps, the water cycle, vowels, numbers, letters, the alphabet. The teachers all wanted me come to their classrooms to paint these murals.”

Morris also painted murals in public spaces of Villa Fundación de Baní, the town she was in.

When she returned to the United States, she moved to the Bay Area, receiving her MFA in art from John F. Kennedy University in Berkeley in 2005. 

Emulatespring_2 Morris’s training in environmental education helps her to paint from the inspiration of shapes in nature. “It’s amazing how fascinating they can be,” Morris says. “I’m interested in the color, and the shapes, and the emotional quality. Beyond just the biology.”

Morris, who works in oils, acrylic, and other mixed-media, exhibits work at multiple galleries in the Bay Area and been commissioned for work hung in hotels and in private collections. Recently, she’s been working primarily from photos of the natural world in which change is happening—decay or bloom, or the change of seasons. She uses them as a starting point for her paintings. But she doesn’t plan where she’s going to end up.

“I find my way to the end,” she says, “and see where it takes me. Generally all I have is the format—the size of the canvas.

“There is beauty along the edges of what we notice,” Morris says. “So much detail goes unseen. Nature has the most intense shapes. In your head it’s contained, and expected. But working from the actual natural world, and working from what you see rather than what you think you see, you find the unexpected.”

Morris will be presenting her first solo show in September, at the Bryant Street Gallery in Palo Alto, California. The show will be made up of new work directly influenced by her experience at Centrum. Image pictured above is Emulate Spring, acrylic and oil on canvas, 24” x 36”, 2007.

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