LUMBERTON — For Melvin Morris, art isn’t meant just to be seen. Art is a visceral experience, meant to be felt, both emotionally and in some cases, physically.
“In my art, I use assemblage paintings,” Morris said. “Found objects make up my pieces, not just paint. Like I used real cotton and sticks and dirt that came from an actual cotton field, to get a more expressive images. A lot of kids today aren’t aware of their history. They don’t know and they don’t care. It is important that these kids know these things and using these natural objects will get them wanting to know more about their history. It makes it more than just an image, but something real.”
An exhibition of Morris’ work, titled “Journey Towards Discovering An Identity,” will be on display at the Carolina Civic Center. The exhibit will open Thursday, with a free catered reception, and will remain on display until Aug 27.
The theme behind the exhibit is based upon Morris’struggle to come to terms with a sense of identity growing up.
“The question ‘where did I come from?’ always settled in the back of my mind,” Morris said in his artist’s statement. “For most children, that question could be easily answered by their parents. As for me, growing up in a household with six siblings, lead by a single parent, personal time was very limited. Consequently, insight to that lingering question came from school. I can recall my teacher giving lessons referencing slavery and early African American history; filled with a little knowledge from the lessons, I then felt like I had a better understanding of ‘where I came from.’ I realize part of my identity is directly linked to the identity of my ancestors. The stories of their struggles and their passion to finding an honorable identity have been a major influence in my work. African American history painting has helped me identify content that I am passionate about expressing.”
One piece that will be on display features a painting of a slave running through a field. While the night’s sky is painted, the field itself is a mixture of paint and actual cotton. Real fabric is used for the slave’s tattered gray pants.
Morris, an art major at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and a former U.S. Marine from Peoria, Ill., believes art can be used to spotlight important societal issues and spur social change.
“Right now, the body of work that I have been creating deals with a lot of cultural issues that the African American community have experienced,” Morris said. “Childhood experiences, lessons that I learned growing up and what not. Art has allowed me to express those personal things, but also slavery, and civil rights issues that impact everyone.”
Morris, who is now 30, began pursuing art immediately after discharging from the Marines. The Civic Center exhibit will mark his first solo exhibition. According to Richard Sceiford, executive director of the Civic Center, spotlighting new talent is routine at the Civic Center.
“We have had a number of artists who have experienced their first solo exhibit with us,” Sceiford said. “This is a difficult opportunity for a lot of artists to get. Once you get your first exhibit, you can then parlay that into other galleries but the first is really a break through and I just love that we are open to any artist who shows they have the competency and wherewithal. They are in charge of it. They select the theme, they do the labeling, the hanging and they help us do the marketing and put together the reception. It is a great learning experience.”
For Morris, the exhibit is an important step forward in a long career in the arts, that he hopes will culminate in his being able to offer opportunities to artists younger than himself.
“It has been a life’s ambition of mine,” Morris said. “… I was in the Marines, that allowed me to get the money I wanted to pursue an art career. Eventually I want to open up a youth arts center, to help other youths who are interested in art, because I believe there is a future in art, when you have been exposed to it.”
James Johnson may be reached at 910-272-6144 or on Twitter @JJohnsonRobeson.