Pew Fellow of the Week: An Interview With Visual Artist Quentin Morris

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Quentin Morris, 2018 Pew Fellow. Photo by Ryan Collerd.

Our “Pew Fellow of the Week” series focuses on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges.

Quentin Morris (2018) talked about the early moments that shaped his career, starting with trips to the Philadelphia Museum of Art with his father, and how Philadelphia has transformed in his time as an artist. For more than 50 years, Morris has been creating monochromatic paintings and works on paper that explore the possibilities of the color black. His work is included in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Quentin Morris Q&A: Content Block 1

Quentin Morris Q&A: Content Block 2

What role does advocacy play in your work?

Part of my work is a social comment about what has happened and what is ongoing, unfortunately. It is not all, but it’s a large part of what I do.

I remember I was influenced by every September that rolled around. You had all these people screaming, hollering, going berserk, because they were integrating the schools. You had these little kids going in with military escorts. That was every September. It stayed with me, growing up in the 50s with the Civil Rights Movement, supposedly starting with Martin Luther King. You have to remember there have always been people who were agitating, all the way back to the 18th century. This is just a continuation.

Why do you choose to work and live in Philadelphia?

I never expected to stay here all this time. Back when I was growing up, Philadelphia was the manufacturing capital of the world. So it was ugly, dirty. I used to run to New York all the time. But what happened was I had tremendous support from family. I inherited the house I'm in. And I realized they weren't going to put African Americans in the galleries in New York—because I was going up there to try to get in.

I knew other places I wanted to live. But I knew it would be tough to be able to do what I wanted to do [if I moved]. I stayed in Philly, and I'm glad I did. I wouldn't have been able to get my artwork done if I'd had to work.

How has Philadelphia’s art scene changed?

It’s changed tremendously. There really wasn’t much of an art scene. You always had a lot of artists, but they were spread out throughout the city. They weren't living in communities like you see in New York or San Francisco or London. There were some galleries in Center City, but very few. There was the art museum, and that was pretty much it. You had the Art Alliance, which I loved to go to. The Print Club [now the Print Center] was another one you could depend on, and Fleisher, where I went to school.

People come here because you have all these world-renowned art schools. They would come here to be educated, but then they would move. Now they're staying here, simply because it's cheaper. You have all these people coming here from New York now. You have a great scene up in Fishtown and South Kensington. There were no art galleries for people living in those places back then.

Quentin Morris Q&A: Content Block 3

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