LAFAYETTE — Once a year, Broussard-born artist Thad Morgan returns to Lafayette to show his latest works and like always, it’s as if he never left.
Austin-based now for three years and staying independent of galleries for the moment, Morgan’s new collection, “Rhythms & Vividness,” struck a familiar chord with local collectors.
“I was looking for an opportunity to reconnect with my supporters in Louisiana, and this was good timing,” says Morgan of his exhibit at The Frame Shop in the Oil Center. “(It’s) also an excuse to come up with new pieces.”
One of the pieces on view until the show’s end on May 16 is “Boris,” a portrait of actor Boris Karloff as Frankenstein, which made its high society debut at the Zombie Ball in Austin. Held in the same location as Austin City Limits, “Boris” was hung 20 feet off the ground near the stage, the Frankenstein front-man for one of the city’s premier society events.
“I’m always trying to branch out in new directions, and there’s that emotional connection with the color work,” says Morgan. “It’s really been the focal point for 15 years now. It still surprises me.”
Morgan begins his process with a sharp stick — the opposite end of his paintbrush — and a big pencil sketch he makes standing up. He paints intuitively, covering the canvas with boldly colored acrylics and using a palette knife, a porcupine quill, or a paintbrush with the bristles cut off, to touch the paints together, a process that from that point on is largely out of his control.
“I do keep in mind highlight and shadow, but that’s about the only aspect I’m conscious of,” the artist says. “I just move the paint in the direction I think it wants to go, and the rest evolves in the moment. I’m not sure what happens.”
What’s happened recently is a series of Rothko-style black paintings, where Morgan invites viewers to search out the color underneath. But unlike his Fauve and Post-Impressionist predecessors, Morgan isn’t bothered when people tie him to his Technicolor work.
“It’s not the least upsetting,” he says. “It’s a rare thing for an artist to come up with a signature style everyone can relate to. It’s a hard thing to do.”
Upon graduation from the Houston Art Institute in 1989, an economic downturn in Dallas sent Morgan offshore to work and later into the service industry as a bartender and bouncer, which he still does part-time in Austin.
He is well-known for his series of images reflecting South Louisiana culture — “Flambeau,” “Smokin’ Fiddle,” “Trumpet Player” — and his work appears in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette stadium, Evangeline Downs and even on the covers of phone books.
“I’m from here and appreciate the richness,” he says. “Local subjects mesh well with my colors. I can do it justice.”
In fact, Morgan’s next venture is a series portraying a unique group of people he’s met in Austin, a retrospective of portraitures in different styles he plans to call “Faces of Austin.”
“It’ll be my first official intro into the art scene there,” he says.