Michael Morgan RI (1928 – 2014) is one of few artists in the world who broke new ground and breathed life and vigour into the watercolour medium. He evolved a compositional style which was highly recognisable. His delight had always been the upland landscape in Britain, but also in Tuscany. Remote hillsides, distant mountains and isolated buildings in these settings became his ...trademark.
Michael Morgan had the rare privilege of creating two distinguished careers for himself. Firstly in academia, initially in teaching, becoming Headmaster of Dartington Primary School in Devon and progressing to his role as principal and CEO of the Froebel Institute, (now the University of Roehampton).
His family fondly recall his frequent refrain “when I retire I’m going to paint”. From childhood, he always enjoyed painting, and when he retired from this teaching role in 1985, he moved back to Devon and turned his attention to just that.
It would have been easy for Michael, given his graphic skills, to simply craft traditional watercolours which are normally applied with wet brushes to paper. He turned the process on its head painting more dryly and with bolder colours on paper made impervious with a gesso base.
Simultaneously, he embarked on playing with perspective to create new interpretations of lonely and beautiful places with heavily worked foregrounds and vertical paths leading you into the composition. The results are paintings filled with subtle surprises which imbue a sense of escapism. They draw in the viewer and evoke memories of places visited and enjoyed.
Michael took inspiration from favoured locations such as Snowdonia, the North York Moors, Pembrokeshire and Tuscany. And whilst whilst they may capture the mood of Dartmoor or Chianti or the coast, they are not usually paintings of a specific view, but an interpretation of the mood and heartbeat of landscape as Michael perceives it. One of the great enjoyments viewing these landscapes is in deciding where you believe the setting to be!
From 1997, solo shows in a local gallery close to his home near Axminster proved sell-outs. Recognition followed his innovative approach, for works which in their power often seemed to be more akin to oil paintings. He was awarded the medal for the most outstanding work by a non-member at the annual RI exhibition in London in 1998 and in 2001 was elected to this small, prestigious body of artists.
All the while putting his academic, artistic and administrative skills into focus, he was appointed in 2000 as Chairman of the Board of Trustees and founding academician of the newly formed Exeter-based South West Academy of Fine and Applied Arts (SWAc) which has become a beacon for artists in the South West. He was president of The Honiton Art Society and his active involvement in fund raising and encouragement for students in local schools and colleges led to the naming of the arts building at his local community college in Axminster after him.
His paintings which, although small, have a charisma and intensity which outweigh most larger works by other artists. Michael Morgan has as a result achieved high acclaim internationally and his innovations have been much emulated. After passing away in 2014 his influence on the world of British watercolours remains strong.