Art Professor Presents Sabbatical Work

“I spend a lot of time thinking about places, but I also go places,” began Professor Jeffrey Morton on the evening of Wednesday, October 11, presenting the product of his sabbatical work. The pieces displayed in the Lucas Art Workshop are only a small representation of an almost ten-year-long project entitled “Thinking of a Place: Finding Home in the Wilderness.”

At the beginning of his talk, Morton spoke about the different places he has traveled to throughout his lifetime and particularly this summer, including Santa Fe, Phoenix, and Japan. His point in talking about these places was to introduce the thinking behind his project. “Maybe we need to think differently about our relationship with nature,” he said. “That’s really the idea behind this.”

Among the pieces displayed in the Lucas Art Workshop are several larger-than-life, raw sized canvases that feature the kudzu vine. These pieces were created by uprooting several kudzu vines, arranging them on the canvas, and then spray painting over them in black. Morton, while interested in human’s relationship to nature as a whole, has a special fascination with kudzu. “Kudzu’s a strange animal,” he said.

Kudzu comes from Japan, and is rather invasive. There are stories of the vine covering whole cars overnight. For every foot of kudzu aboveground, there are three feet below. It really has no beginning or end. In order to better understand this monster of a plant, Professor Morton sat in kudzu fields for hours at a time. He calculated that he spent a total of 36 hours and 11 minutes observing kudzu.

Several of Morton’s pieces feature a circular shape. “The circle was a way to wrestle with my body and the landscape,” he said. He explained that this was a reference to the Vitruvian man, the famous drawing by Da Vinci of a man, spread eagled, inside of a circle. Michelangelo’s “Crucifix” also inspired Morton’s work, as it resembles the Vitruvian man, though one that has been incredibly humbled by his circumstances. Morton was inspired by this idea, recognizing that arranging the kudzu in a certain way made it much more manageable and easier to control. However, it also humbled him because he realized that the plant, and in a broader context nature, is something so much greater than him.

Along with the kudzu pieces, Morton’s sabbatical work includes a collection of photographs with text cut out of them. These photographs are meant to convey that nature is not always the happiest of places. Four letter long words like “bite,” “tick,” “burn,” and “mite” all appear in the photographs. The cutting out of the text instead of simply pasting it onto the photographs gives the viewer a sense of actually being in the places pictured.

Lastly, the collection contains what Morton calls “Color Studies.” “These are just a chance to have fun with pretty colors, and I’m okay with that,” he said. The process of creating these began with collecting paint chips and then categorizing them into groups like earth, animals, etcetera. Morton then painted abstract pieces that incorporated these collections of colors. In regards to the project as a whole, Morton spoke very passionately and poignantly. “I’m committed to investing in [this project] and seeing where it goes. The world is happening around us, and I hope I’m paying attention to it.”

   Pieces from Jeffery Morton's sabbatical series are on display in the Lucas Art Building. Photo by Will Payne.

Pieces from Jeffery Morton's sabbatical series are on display in the Lucas Art Building. Photo by Will Payne.