Local Landscape Painter Is Featured Artist at Hoover’s Southern Voices
By June Mathews
When artist Melanie Morris accompanied her husband, author Michael Morris, to the Hoover Public Library’s Southern Voices Festival in 2004, she met that year’s featured artist, Toni Tully, with whom she naturally felt a connection.
“She was so nice, and I thought then that I would love to be the featured artist someday,” Morris said.
So when she was asked last summer to fulfill that role in Southern Voices 2015, Morris not only didn’t hesitate, she was over-the-moon happy to accept, she said.
“I was stunned and excited,” said Morris, who lives in Vestavia Hills. “I love how it joins Michael’s literary world and my art world, and I can’t wait for the event.”
The way her husband’s world complements hers is evident in the way Morris and her artwork came to the attention of the festival’s organizers.
“I first became acquainted with Melanie through Michael, who is one of our favorite Southern Voices alumni,” said Assistant Library Director Amanda Borden. “Last spring, he gave me a few notecards printed with Melanie’s art, and I was stunned by their beauty.
“She uses her paintbrush — or rather, palette knife — to elevate everyday Southern settings to something truly special and imaginative, much like a good Southern writer does with words.”
Morris’s chosen theme for the exhibit, “A Sense of Place – the Southern Landscape,” is an apt description for her series of contemporary landscapes and florals based on photos taken throughout the South. From her native Mississippi over to the Carolinas and down into Florida, Morris depicts regional scenes with acrylics, using a palette knife technique to give her work a dreamlike look.
“After a trip to the Big Sur, Calif., I became frustrated when I couldn’t capture the feel of the area with a brush,” she said. “It was then that I switched to a palette knife and never looked back. I love the interesting textures and looseness that I achieve with a knife.”
Oddly enough, Morris never really intended to become an artist. She began her college career in pre-med, but an aversion to the sight of blood compelled her to switch majors to communications with an eye toward advertising. As planned, she ultimately wound up in the advertising field, but on the sales side rather than the creative side of the office.
She later decided to study painting at Peace College in Raleigh, N.C., where she and her husband were living at the time. Unfortunately, one of the first things she learned was that oil paint triggered her allergies. Switching to acrylics rid Morris of the problem, and she’s used mostly acrylics ever since.
“I’ve been painting for 15 years, but I’ve always loved art,” she said. “And I’ve always liked to draw. When I was 3, my mom took me out into the yard and told me to draw what I saw. I never had a coloring book or anything like that.”
“I like to use both sides of my brain, and the job at UAB gives me a nice back-and-forth between the office and painting,” she said.
Among the canvases Morris will be showing at Southern Voices are “Sanctuary,” a tree-filled rendition of Rowan Oak, the Oxford, Miss., home of William Faulkner; a sunrise scene called “God of Wonders,” captured by Morris with a cell phone camera following an early-morning prayer service; and a colorful interpretation of a flower-filled South Alabama field called “Backroads.”
The Southern Voices Artist Reception honoring Morris is Feb. 24 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Friends Gallery on the Theatre Level. The reception is free and open to the public. The artwork will remain on display through March.
Morris’s work has been featured in Cottage Journal magazine and Birmingham Home and Garden magazine. She also shows paintings at Bennett Galleries in Nashville, Tenn., at her Homewood studio and online at MelanieMorrisArt.com and on her Melanie Morris Art Facebook page.
She was recently named an Emerging Artist by Art Galleries and Artists of the South magazine.