A native Memphian returns with powerful images of the place she still calls home.
"View from Harbor Town," Musette Morgan, 36x48 inches, Oil on canvas
There’s a talented new artist making quite the splash in town, and her name is Musette Morgan. And judging from the enthusiasm on display when her “Nature: Its Colors and Shapes” exhibition opened at the Levy Gallery of The Buckman Performing & Fine Arts Center at St. Mary’s Episcopal School earlier this spring (and showing through April 20th), we will be hearing a lot more about her in the future.
Musette Morgan, of course, is not all that new to Memphis. The daughter of Allen and Musette Morgan and a 2003 graduate of St. Mary’s, she has her B.A. in painting and drawing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Following graduation she headed for New York City, where she now lives.
For the past two years, Morgan has shown in Manhattan’s Sankofa Gallery’s “Timeless Art from Contemporary Artists” exhibition. Her artwork has also been featured in an emerging artist show in Atlanta in 2009, as well as in The Ritz Carlton Magazine’s fall issue last year. Her paintings and drawings have been prominently featured in the National Academy’s annual exhibits for the past four years, and she has received an honorable-mention portrait award from that venerable institution.
Morgan kindly agreed to meet with me while she was in town for her opening. The highlights of our discussion follow:
Q: When did you first realize you had artistic talent? Tell us about some of your teachers.
I have always loved to paint and had wonderful art teachers at St. Mary’s. My secret wish was always that one day I could make a living as an artist. I was further nurtured in college within the Chapel Hill community. A favorite instructor told me about a great artist and teacher in New York City named Samuel Adoquei, who was considered tough but brilliant. He is originally from Ghana and maintains his own studio as well as teaches at the National Academy School. After meeting with him and an amazing four-hour discussion, I was totally inspired and have now been studying with Adoquei for five years. (Adoquei’s work was included in a Smithsonian Institution traveling show “In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.,” which was exhibited at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in 2003.)
Q: Much of your work shows an impressionistic influence. Are there any famous artists of the past who have influenced your work?
I love Cezanne, Monet, Manet, Vuillard, and Sargent, but have to say that my consistent favorites are Frans Hals and the Spanish artist, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida. I often admire the latter’s artworks at the Hispanic Society of America, a jewel of a museum on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Q: Since your art exhibition is titled “Nature: Its Colors
and Shapes,” it is clear the natural world is central
to your vision and inspiration.
In my still-life paintings of flowers, fruits, and simple garden vegetables like radishes and rutabagas, I am really searching for the beauty in the ordinary, and I like to paint subjects that everyone can relate to. The question becomes really whether there is anything ordinary in nature. Obviously, I don’t think so.
Q: How would you describe your art? What are your methods and special painting techniques?
You might describe my style as a kind of realistic impressionism. I work in various mediums, including charcoal, pencil, and watercolor, but mostly focus on oils. There is so much to learn about painting in oil. As a classically trained artist, I find myself concentrating for hours and hours on the technical aspects of my lines, strokes, angles, and shapes. I strive to display a balance between sound technicals and bold strokes of color and light. I often aim to have within the same painting some areas which are more impressionistic than others. In the end, the purpose of my work is to delight the audience with an original display of composition, brushwork, and color.
Q: How has growing up in Memphis affected your art? I noticed that one of the loveliest paintings in the exhibition is of the flooded Mississippi River.
Yes, I suppose in many ways I do consider myself a Southern painter. I have been told, especially by friends up North, that my paintings have soul, which I attribute to my upbringing in a city so associated with soul in its music. And I like to think there is that element of romance — always associated with the South — in everything I paint.
Q: I happen to know your family has summered for years in Biddeford Pool, Maine. I wonder if you have some seascapes or maritime paintings among your works?
Oh yes, of course. I love New England. I grew up visiting my grandmother’s home in Maine, and I try to get up there every August, when things slow down a little for me. It is a wonderful change to get out of the studio and into a different environment where I can paint coastal landscapes.
Q: I lived in New York City for many years myself and found that every day was an adventure. What do you enjoy in particular about life in the city?
I love to walk everywhere, especially around Greenwich Village where I live. I visit the green market at Union Square to buy — and study —the gorgeous bounty of food and flowers sold there. I love dining with friends in all the wonderful restaurants and of course visiting museums. The new American Wing galleries at the Metropolitan is tops on my to-do list at the moment.
Q: What’s next? More specifically, where do you see yourself in five years?
Right now, I have a rigorous schedule of classes six days a week. This structure of studying and painting in a group environment keeps me focused. This is a good thing, but it won’t last forever. In time I will be planning new projects, and the day may come when I will move back home to Memphis to live and work. Meanwhile, I am hoping I will be fortunate enough to have more Memphis exhibitions. I feel so grateful and lucky that 18 of my paintings (out of the 24 for sale) sold at the opening reception for the current show.
Q: Lastly, please tell us about Christine Ruby, whose ceramics share the Levy gallery at the moment with your paintings.
Christine is a very talented St. Mary’s graduate, whose wonderful works have organic shapes. Elizabeth Garat, the well-known artist and art teacher at St. Mary’s, put the show together with the thinking being that my paintings and Christine’s ceramics would complement each other. I think you will agree that they do.
The hours of the Levy Gallery in the Buckman Performing & Fine Arts Center at St. Mary’s Episcopal School (60 Perkins Road, Ext.) are Monday-Friday,
10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by appointment, 901-537-1483.
For more on Musette Morgan, check out her website at