Re­turn to in­no­cence

THE LAND­SCAPES OF DANIEL MOR­PER

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Michael Abatemarco The New Mex­i­can

In his later works, land­scape painter Daniel Mor­per (1944-2016) de­picted the Santa Fe Rai­l­yard be­fore its re­vi­tal­iza­tion. His paint­ings con­vey a sense of his­tory and time, and he cap­tured mo­ments of beauty in unexpected places — a sig­nal sta­tion on a lonely stretch of rail, or an old metal drum awash in the late af­ter­noon light of a sum­mer sun. He was equally adept at paint­ing ur­ban land­scapes and was known for his strik­ing views of New York and the Grand Canyon. LewAllen Gal­leries (1613 Paseo de Per­alta) opens a me­mo­rial ex­hibit of Mor­per’s works on Fri­day, Oct. 7, with a 5 p.m. re­cep­tion. On the cover is a de­tail of Mor­per’s 2004 paint­ing At Day’s End, oil on can­vas (the re­main­der of the im­age is to the right).

Mor­per’s treat­ment of light is of­ten dra­matic and at­mo­spheric. While his paint­ings evince a con­tem­pla­tive still­ness, their light is stun­ning, sat­u­rat­ing many of his com­po­si­tions with golden sun­set hues.

Alook back at 19th-cen­tury Amer­i­can land­scape paint­ing re­veals a world quite dif­fer­ent from our own. But in the paint­ings of Daniel Mor­per, there is an affin­ity with the idyl­lic, sun-dap­pled, vir­gin land­scapes of the past. In his ci­tyscapes, sky­scrapers re­place moun­tains; in more ru­ral land­scapes, roads and low build­ings crowd out the open vis­tas and rolling hills of the Amer­i­can West. But the em­pha­sis on nat­u­ral beauty and light, which re­flects on the hu­man-made, gives one pause to re­gard his ur­ban scenes in a new way: Mor­per’s works treat these set­tings as though they, too, were pas­toral land­scapes. “In his var­i­ous se­ries, and es­pe­cially in the re­la­tion­ship of one se­ries to the next, it would seem that Mor­per is seek­ing to re­ca­pit­u­late and to up­date the scope of ear­lier Amer­i­can land­scape paint­ing, the kind of paint­ing that un­abashedly and un­self­con­sciously cel­e­brated the new land while it was still rel­a­tively new,” wrote art critic Peter Frank in a 2008 cat­a­logue es­say, “Daniel Mor­per: In the Amer­i­can Way.”

Mor­per’s sub­ject mat­ter be­longs to the 20th cen­tury, but his style and tech­niques hark back through the in­ter­ven­ing decades to the days of the Hud­son River School and their ro­man­ti­cized vi­sions of Amer­ica. The works also de­rive in­flu­ence from 20th-cen­tury art. Frank notes com­par­isons be­tween Mor­per’s paint­ings and the panoramic land­scapes of Thomas Mo­ran and Al­bert Bier­stadt but states that “later Amer­i­can land­scape paint­ing can also be found in Mor­per’s artis­tic DNA.” In some of his works’ ur­ban set­tings, for in­stance, one senses the in­flu­ence of Ed­ward Hop­per’s dra­matic and cin­e­matic style. Mor­per, a na­tion­ally rec­og­nized and in­flu­en­tial painter, stayed true to Amer­ica’s legacy of land­scape paint­ing while also keep­ing it rel­e­vant.

Mor­per, who died on April 8, is rep­re­sented by LewAllen Gal­leries. A me­mo­rial ex­hi­bi­tion for the painter opens Fri­day, Oct. 7. Mor­per was born in Fort Ben­ning, Ge­or­gia, in 1944. He grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Notre Dame in 1966 and earned a law de­gree from Columbia in 1969. “His fa­ther had been a lawyer,” Mor­per’s widow, artist Carol Moth­ner, told Pasatiempo. At California Ru­ral Le­gal As­sis­tance, Mor­per worked with grow­ers to up­hold civil rights laws. “But he really wanted to be an artist,” Moth­ner said. “He went to the Cor­co­ran Mu­seum School for maybe a month. He was pretty much self-taught.”

Moth­ner, whose re­cent ex­hi­bi­tion at Nüart Gallery, Aloft, was in­spired, in part, by Mor­per’s love of birding, first met him in Santa Fe through a mu­tual friend with whom she at­tended the Skowhe­gan School of Paint­ing and Sculp­ture in Maine. When they met, how­ever, Moth­ner was al­ready mar­ried to au­thor Robert Mayer. “Daniel lived in New York at the time but would come out West to paint ev­ery year. He would stop by my apart­ment to say hello and I would give him lunch or I would give him din­ner and that went on for about four years. One year he came out and I was no longer mar­ried and that was it. That was in 1984. We were to­gether ever since then.”

Mor­per’s land­scapes cap­ture a dif­fer­ent sense of place than those of his fore­bears, and few of his vi­sions of the West de­pict pris­tine views un­in­ter­rupted by man’s in­cur­sion on the land. His South Val­ley – Beef Pro, an oil paint­ing from 1992, for in­stance, is a panoramic, wel­com­ing scene with trucks, tanks, elec­tric poles, and a car driv­ing past on the high­way. But where other painters might con­sider such sights a blight on the land, un­der Mor­per’s hand, this scene of ru­ral in­dus­try feels like a con­tem­po­rary take on 19th-cen­tury land­scapes re­plete with Na­tive vil­lages. The mood is es­sen­tially the same.

Mor­per’s treat­ment of light is of­ten dra­matic and at­mo­spheric. While his paint­ings evince a con­tem­pla­tive still­ness, their light is stun­ning, sat­u­rat­ing many of his com­po­si­tions with golden sun­set hues, as in his paint­ing Colorado, Day’s End from 2009. His de­pic­tions of twi­light scenes are breath­tak­ing in their abil­ity to evoke moods in the viewer. See­ing them is akin to be­ing there in per­son, as in the 2008 paint­ing New

Ties, a Santa Fe Rai­l­yard scene where one can al­most taste win­ter in the low­er­ing sky. His more pris­tine land­scapes, such as those of the Grand Canyon, can be loose and ges­tu­ral while still pro­vid­ing a sense of rich de­tail. “It’s in­cred­i­ble to look at his brush­strokes and you’d think he used a size zero-zero-zero brush, but no, he got that de­tail with a wide brush,” Moth­ner said. “New York and the Grand Canyon were prob­a­bly his fa­vorite sub­ject mat­ter.” Mor­per was a real­ist and a col­orist, but also a doc­u­men­tar­ian, cap­tur­ing mo­ments as they are. This doc­u­men­tary abil­ity can be seen in his now-his­toric de­pic­tions of the Rai­l­yard be­fore its re­vi­tal­iza­tion. Mor­per, who made nu­mer­ous paint­ings of train scenes in his later ca­reer, en­vi­sioned rail­cars as the silent rem­nants of a by­gone world. “When he took on the Rai­l­yard, it was around the same time it was be­com­ing some­thing else, some­thing pol­ished. It was not old Santa Fe any­more — and Daniel, lit­tle by lit­tle, wasn’t him­self any­more, ei­ther.”

Mor­per’s death came at the end of a long strug­gle with Alzheimer’s dis­ease. He wasn’t di­ag­nosed un­til 2005, ac­cord­ing to Moth­ner, but she noticed that his mem­ory was fail­ing as early as 2000. Over the next 16 years, his con­di­tion wors­ened. “He did a few of his best works in 2006, but the dif­fer­ence was the toll that it took on him. To make sense of the anatomy of a cloud, say, was much harder for him, but he could still do it. The hard­est thing for him was know­ing that what­ever it was that was in his brain, he couldn’t trans­late it to the can­vas.”

Friends con­tin­ued to take him on out­door ex­cur­sions. He still en­joyed birding trips with his wife, but he could no longer iden­tify the dif­fer­ent species, a dis­con­so­late de­noue­ment for an artist who, as a child of eleven, was able to iden­tify so many birds that he at­tracted the in­ter­est of the Audubon So­ci­ety, which en­listed him in its an­nual Christ­mas Count of na­tive bird pop­u­la­tions. In fact, ac­cord­ing to Moth­ner, John James Audubon, along with Thomas Mo­ran and Karl Bod­mer, was among his fa­vorite artists.

The me­mo­rial ex­hibit of­fers a glimpse into Santa Fe’s re­cent past, and it seems fit­ting that his Rai­l­yard paint­ings are be­ing shown in the same district that Mor­per chose as sub­ject mat­ter. If he mourned the changes to the Rai­l­yard, there is no overt con­dem­na­tion of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in those works. There is no so­cial or po­lit­i­cal mes­sage. He painted lo­cales as they ex­isted on their own terms, and per­haps that sense of ac­cep­tance is what al­lows his paint­ings to be beau­ti­ful with­out be­ing ide­al­ized, to be real with­out be­ing di­dac­tic.

de­tails

Daniel Mor­per: In Memo­riam: The Life of a Land­scape Painter Re­cep­tion 5 p.m. Fri­day, Oct. 7; through Nov. 6 LewAllen Gal­leries, 1613 Paseo de Per­alta, 505-988-3250

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