Father and son form a two-person painting club and bond stronger

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Graham Morgan, left, and his father Tom, standing next to their respective artwork, began painting together in the basement of their Portland home during the pandemic. They sit next to each other and paint the same picture. Derek Davis / staff photographer Buy this photo

Tom Morgan can thank his son Graham for rekindling his interest in painting.

And Bob Ross.

Graham Morgan signed up for a painting course as an elective in his senior semester at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island last year. When the pandemic abruptly brought him back to Portland, Graham brought his unfinished business and supplies and set up a studio in the family home in the West End.

His father soon joined. Tom, now 64, graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York with a degree in art in the early 1980s and made a living designing books, but it had been a long time since he picked a paintbrush up to paint something other than a threshold. For his father’s birthday last year, Graham presented his father with painting supplies and an open invitation to watch a painting video by Ross, the TV evangelist painter known for his instructional videos on The Joy of Painting.

Puzzled about hanging out with Ross, Tom was sure he wanted to hang out with his son – and said yes to both of them. Since then they have founded a painting club with two members. Two to three times a week, father and son sit at two easels to paint their own painting on the same subject, each with their own colors, materials and techniques and a common interest in exploring the secrets of inspiration and creativity.

Tom Morgan and his son Graham started painting together in the basement of their Portland home during the pandemic. They sit next to each other in a small space in their basement and paint the same picture. Tom Morgan painted the still life on the left, Graham Morgan painted the right. Derek Davis / staff photographer Buy this photo

Graham, 24, has since graduated from Roger Williams. He works as a park ranger in South Portland and lives at his parents’ house. The painting routine outlasted any class assignment or passing interest. The father and son painted about 25 paintings during their sessions – still lifes, scenes from Portland, any subject that arouses their mutual interest. They have always been close, but for the past 15 months sitting next to each other, painting and talking together has brought them closer together.

On this Father’s Day, Tom Morgan is especially grateful.

“It was one of the blessings to have him with you and spend this time together. It’s absurdly wonderful, ”he said. “I am happy to have this opportunity.”

Another son, Wyeth (named after another painter), 21, recently joined the Marines.

Tom Morgan, who is married to writer and editor Genevieve (GA) Morgan, fully credits Graham for “kicking him back on the palette and screaming”. He also credits Ross for motivating him, whose memorization removes any sense of creativity or originality from the creative process.

“The guy paints a painting every 27 minutes. It was amazing. We had to stop and start and stop and start, but it was a fantastic experience, ”said Tom Morgan with a laugh. “Having attended art school in the conceptual art era, I probably learned more about applying paint in the 27 minutes I listened to Bob Ross than in four years in art school. Or six years of art school, whatever it was. “

He laughed again.

Bob Ross was a first foray. Since then, they have chosen their own motifs and painted at their own pace. Some pictures took two or three weeks, others two months or more.

This bonding experience helped Tom Morgan realize, among other things, that painting can be fun again. More precisely, his son reminded him how to enjoy art. At some point, art became a profession and painting became a duty. After college, Tom Morgan followed his art studies to an art gallery where he designed art catalogs. From there he began designing magazines and eventually books. It’s been a good career.

“But I drew null and I forgot how fun it was,” he said. “The good thing about sitting side by side is that we talk a lot and he keeps hearing me say the same thing. And one thing I keep saying: ‘I love to paint!’ Just putting paint on canvas is so great. It’s really good fun. So that was a revelation. “

For Graham, the revelation of painting is that it has enabled him to see the world with more perspective. The son of creative parents, he has always learned to look different. But painting is very different. “I’m noticing a lot more light now,” he said. “And color, definitely.”

Painting of Widgery Wharf by Tom Morgan, left, and his son Graham. Derek Davis / staff photographer Buy this photo

But he warns against ascribing a deep meaning to these images. These are street scenes from the local Cumberland Farms, the Longfellow statue, and various still lifes of things like dumbbells, a hockey glove, and a bottle of booze – common interests.

“We probably shouldn’t admit that, but it’s honestly true,” said Tom, confirming his son’s conclusion that her paintings are devoid of intellectual layers. “We were just trying to paint what is around us – Gen, the dog, Widgery Wharf, the buildings around us.”

And while it may be true that these are shallow paintings, they strive to be more. Last March, father and son traveled to Chicago to see an exhibition of paintings by Claude Monet. They had come a long way since Bob Ross.

Although their images look similar, there are subtle differences. Tom tends to be a little looser with his lines, less literal in his colors. These differences are evident in two paintings by Widgery Wharf, in which Tom took liberties with the color of the sky and the water. “Graham was true to the colors – blue water, blue sky. I did some purple because I was probably trying to channel Monet in my half-baked way, ”he said.

When the painting club started, they met upstairs. But over time, and the mess of paintings and supplies, they moved into the basement. A few years earlier, Wyeth turned the basement into a work area with a bench for projects and a hangout for his friends with sofas. Last year they added a pool table.

When the painting club moved down, Tom and Graham took over the workbench and later emptied the cupboard with the paint cans and set up their easels and chairs there. That is where they have settled. It’s tight but comfortable in a room between Tom, who keeps his hockey gear – he skates in a men’s league in Falmouth – and a huge, long-retired oven.

They make tea, shoot billiards, paint, shoot even more.

Is it competitive?

“No, not really,” said Graham.

“Yes, it is,” replied his father. “I would be a slower painter if he weren’t sitting next to me. The competition of keeping up so he doesn’t finish a picture and then stands around waiting for me to finish to keep things moving, that’s real. If I had been alone, I would be on my fourth painting by now. Nor is he as shy a painter as I was often. He actually said, ‘Just jump in, Dad. Go ahead and try. ‘ That is helpful and different. “

It’s competitive in other ways, though not necessarily head-to-head. Both want to get better. They currently have no plans to exhibit their work, although both said they would like to one day.

“We’re not done yet,” said Graham, demonstrating the wisdom of a son who learned from his father that it takes years of work to create a really great painting – no matter what Bob Ross would have you believe.


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