If as Roman emperor and philosopher
Marcus Aurelius mused in the 2nd century, “the soul becomes dyed with the color
of its thoughts,” then the soul of beloved Galveston artist Jack Morris a veritable
“I have had a very good life,” says Morris, 78, a former architect who
permanently traded his sketch pens and trace paper for brushes and canvas in
the mid-80s and never looked back.
“I’ve had so many good people in my life, some very good people - the
best, in fact, including my son Charlie and his wife, whom I adore. I've also
had a successful career in architecture, and then some very good years as a
painter. I tried my best to create a narrative in my work. It’s been good.”
Morris, who was diagnosed five years ago with end-stage COPD and
now is in hospice care at the home of his son, Charles, is universally
credited with founding Galveston ArtWalk, a strolling art exhibition that
spotlights commercial galleries, nonprofit art spaces and area businesses that
promote the arts by using wall space to spotlight local artists.
His work, the subjects of which vary from Galveston
landmarks and architecture to New Orleans
nightlife, coastal Texas,
and other areas, has garnered critical praise and has been compared to Edward
Hopper and John Singer Sargent.
Morris’ work has been featured in Architectural
Digest and Southern Living
magazines, hangs in private collections throughout the world, and in 1994, his
painting of the Hendley Building in Galveston
was exhibited at The National Gallery in Washington,
D.C. He is perhaps best known for
his paintings of Allan Jaffe’s world-famous Preservation Hall Jazz Band in New Orleans.
“I loved painting the old musicians in New Orleans, the founding members of Preservation
Hall,” says Morris who feels a kinship with Edward Hopper, widely recognized as
the most influential realist painter of the 20th century.
“I painted them so often that I got to know them. It was real nice. We
had some great conversations. They’re all gone now. The last of them, Narvin
Kimball, a banjoist, died shortly after Hurricane Katrina.”
“Charlie and I just felt it was time to do this,” says Betsy Campbell,
who manages the gallery as well as her own business next door, Betsy By Design.
“We have a number of Jack’s original oil paintings still remaining here at the
gallery, but I also felt it was important to show works from some private
collections, such as watercolors from the early- and mid-1990s before Jack
moved into working mainly in oils.”
Campbell says the retrospective of Morris’ work is meant to underscore how much he means not only to the city of Galveston, but also to those who have been touched by his work. To gaze at a Jack Morris painting is to see the soul of the man standing at the easel, she says. And that man is a hellava good guy.“His artwork reflects Jack: what you see is what you get. He’s direct,
honest and fiercely loyal to his family and loved ones,” Campbell says. “He cares about his friends
and family and does not hesitate to express his thoughts or feelings.”
Longtime friend and fellow artist Richard Kelver says Morris was the
unseen force behind the careers of many local artists, including his own. “His
ideas and involvement in the Galveston
arts helped a lot of artists,” says Kelver.
He met Morris in 1989 while bicycling in Galveston. “I was a sign painter and
illustrator at the time, with a fine art studio in the back rooms of my mind.
Jack gave me my first show. After that show, I never painted another sign."
"Without Jack's support who knows? I won't attempt to describe
our friendship other than to say we are ‘brothers.’ Even in his waning days, he
can make me belly laugh. I can't predict how Jack will be remembered
by others. I will always remember him as my friend. We had a good ride.”
Morris says he is proud to have played a role “however small” in helping
local artists to get in touch with the artist within. Ask anyone in the art
community and they will tell you Morris is responsible for launching the
careers of hundreds of artists. “I’ve tried to encourage artists. It’s so
important to support talent. It’s never too late,” he says.
“There’s more to life than a bank account. Money is not important. As
long as you’re happy, and you’re surviving and taking care of your family,
Jackie O’Dell first visited Galveston in
the late 70s, and at that time, “you’d never put the word art and Galveston in the same
sentence,” she says.
“That all changed in the mid-80s when Jack Morris opened his first
gallery on The Strand. I remember, and it changed everything. Now, there are so
many amazing galleries on the Island. It’s so
great for tourism, not to mention local talent. Think of all those people on
the cruise ships that dock in Galveston,
and the exposure these artists get now. I’m sure Jack Morris had no idea what
he would start, but I’m sure glad he did.”
Jack Morris downplays his hand in helping to establish Galveston’s vibrant art scene, but he is
delighted that so much local talent is firmly in the spotlight where it should
be. Richard Kelver, Rachel Wiley-Janota, Joseph Henderson, George Campbell, and
Eddie Filer are among his favorites, but there are “many others,” he says.
“George out on the west end does marvelous wildlife pieces, and I love
Eddie Filer’s work. It’s mostly classical portraiture, and it is astounding.
There’s one hanging in my gallery now of a homeless man that is stunning. And he
is one of the nicest people I know. I absolutely love him to pieces.”
Charles Morris says his father’s hand can be seen throughout the island
- through his architecture, his art, and his support of others like him
who feel the need to express the artist within. “I knew my father was a
talented and respected artist from an early age,” Charles says.
“I would have to pinpoint the time frame that I knew my dad was doing
something incredibly special was when I saw the first New Orleans series…His
legacy as an architect and the projects he designed is no different than the
amazing art that he has produced and is displayed in homes throughout the
Watching the light of life within his once vital father diminish has
been difficult to bear, but it is the very essence of vitality found within his
father’s art that lifts him from his most anguished thoughts of the inevitable
“I love my father very much. His health decline has been very difficult
for me personally, and when I see one of his paintings it makes that moment a
little bit better,” he says.
“I have many favorites. However, if I had to pick one it would be the
piece titled ‘Mosquito Fleet.’ I remember the day - vividly - that the images
were taken for this piece, and the others that were in that series. It was a
good afternoon spent, and a lot of great pieces came from that outing. I really
like the Preservation Hall pieces and the memories I have as a kid on our trips
to New Orleans and seeing the Preservation Hall legends, such as Narvin
Kimball, who my dad painted.”
The elder Morris knows the canvas that is his life is nearly complete,
and he has come to terms with the inevitable adventure we all must take. He is
proud of his two sons and their families, the friendships he has made, and the
architecture and art he has created.
“I have met many great people, and we made great memories,” he says.
“For example, years ago, my ex-wife Christina, who is still one of the greatest
people I know, and I went to a gallery that was having an exhibit of Edward Hopper’s
"I was the first one in. I was looking at this painting called
‘Seven A.M.,’ and I had my nose on the wall, as close as I could get to
the painting, to see the brushstrokes. I just wanted to see how he applied the
paint. Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around, and it was the
curator with the head of security. I said to him, ‘I’m not touching it,’ and
the curator says, ‘we noticed. But you may, if you wish.’ I wiped the tip of my
finger to get the oil off, and I just barely touched it."
"Hopper was very stingy with the paint. I am, too, but he was
somewhat of a minimalist, compared to me. He was superb. Amazing. I thanked the
curator, who then said to me, ‘I could tell you are an artist,’” Morris says. “It
meant a lot to me.”
What: Galveston ArtWalk, retrospective and
celebration of Jack Morris’ work
When: Patron Preview Open House is 6-8
p.m. Thursday, July 11; 5:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 13
Where: Third Coast Gallery, 2413 Mechanic St., Galveston
Cost: Free and open to the public