To some, the “Brushes” application on the iPhone or iPad is just another fun way to waste time with technology. For Hingham painter Morgan Russell, the tool has become a new medium for his art.
From realism to abstract art, Russell has always been pushing the boundaries of his work, yet the new technology, which has invigorated a love of abstraction, may be the biggest push yet.
The Hingham native has been painting for decades, studying more realistic forms of art at the National Academy of Design in New York in the early 1990s, then at the Art Students League of New York later in the decade.
According to the artist, his work was most realistic in 2002, and since then, his preferred style has slowly become more abstract as he continues to search for invention in his work.
“I was painting in New York and I thought this is great, it’s impressive…but I’m missing invention,” Russell said. “Not that there isn’t invention in good realistic painting, but I’m missing that in my own work. I didn’t flick a switch…was one day realistic and next deciding to be abstract. It was an evolutionary, slow process, and it came about through wanting to explore some things.”
When the artist returned to Hingham in 2006, to the barn behind his house where he paints during the summer, and to the woods surrounding his creative space, he was inspired to paint abstract paintings with a focus in nature.
“I’m immersing myself in what I see around me, but with more of an interest in invention and abstraction,” Russell said. “I’m still tied to an observational quality, but not all the way through the painting.”
The quest into abstraction, varied colors pulsing off the page in familiar yet distorted shapes, held his interest for some time, and a year and a half ago, Russell said he discovered the iPad.
Initially it was just experimentation, something to doodle on and play with. Yet work soon intervened, and Russell’s latest show, “Take more time, cover less ground” at The Alcove Gallery, Boston, in April took took all his artistic focus.
His brother’s wedding, which took place in the art studio barn, distracted the artist for a time after. It wasn’t until six weeks ago that the artist, unenthusiastic about his work and struggling to find something new within it, decided to pick up the iPad once more.
“I felt like I wasn’t enthusiastic anymore, and after getting back into these little iPad paintings, I’ve found this enthusiasm, almost like being an art student again,” he said. “I felt like I was doing more experimentation stuff. I also, in the past couple paintings I’ve done, I’ve thought more about how I’m working on the iPad.”
There are bolder colors in his paintings now, compositions for larger paintings have jumped off the page. Even how Russell uses the iPad application has changed since he picked it up once more.
“I was trying to use it as this is traditional media and this brush is supposed to act like this brush, but now I’m understanding it as technology. I’ve thought about recently, the iPad and brushes app as a different way of making things,” Russell said.
The images are available on his website, however it may prove difficult to show the paintings in a gallery space.
“I don’t know if it would work making prints of them. The media itself is made out of light; to print it out with inks you’d lose some of the characteristics of the medium, the electric medium. I think I would be interested in showing them if I could somehow project them onto screens. It might be interesting,” Russell said.
The brushes application also enables users to re-watch their painting in fast motion, a video that might make a neat addition to an electric exhibit.
“I’m primarily a painter, but it’s fun to get ideas from all over the place and this is a new place for me to get ideas…it’s also informed some recent work,” Russell said. “I can feel more of a crispness of colors…there is a slight change I’m noticing or thinking about, and it’s from maybe playing around with this thing.”
Russell is the recipient of the Lillian Orlowsky and William Freed Foundation Grant. To see more of his work, visit here.