Illusory naïveté

The big sky of Montana wasn’t the only thing to surround Barbara Morrison as a child.

“My father, Robert, was a fantastic art teacher and taught at Rocky Mountain College in Billings,” she says of her first instructor. “While my mom wouldn’t have considered herself an ‘artist,’ she was. She was a master at spinning, knitting and dying textiles.” In fact, her mother Berta was deemed “a living treasure of Montana” in 1998 by the Montana Association of Weavers and Spinners.

The desire to create didn’t stop with Barbara, however.

Her family is chock-full of creative souls. One brother works as a ceramic artist and another, who passed away a few years ago, worked as an administrator at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and was a talented actor, she says. A daughter is a painter and textile artist.

What brought you to Missoula?

I came to Missoula in 1987 to pursue an endorsement as an art teacher, but that got pushed aside when I remarried and had two more children. With four children, I had to organize my time well so that I could make art, but I think a lot of the ideas and creativity in my work can be traced to my enjoyment of kids—our house was always pretty messy but we had lots of fun!

Describe your art:

My work falls into the category of Naïve art (also spelled Naif). My paintings are based on things I like: stories, dreams, daily life, seasons, weather, places I’ve been. I use bright flat colors. Most of my paintings are done in gouache, an opaque watercolor medium, similar to tempera paint. Although the lack of perspective makes the paintings seem simple, a closer look will show that I use layers of meaning and lots of detail: ants and beetles or bones buried under the earth, people hidden in houses, etc. My sculptures and dolls also come from the folk art tradition and have been inspired by different ethnic art from all over the world.

What inspires you?

I think the thing that usually gets an idea started for a painting is color: for example, if I see a new combination of colors or unusual colors in a landscape. Another huge source of inspiration for me is reading. I love the library!

Between 2008 and 2010 my husband Jim Taylor and I lived in Beijing and traveled extensively around China. I was greatly influenced by Chinese culture, history, and crafts, and I enjoyed learning Chinese, although I haven’t been very good at following through with that. I was lucky to have time to go to some classes in Beijing about different historical art forms and crafts that are quickly disappearing as China rapidly becomes modern. I love Chinese folk art in particular for its simplicity and craftsmanship, which you can see even in day-to-day objects, and I really love the flat colorful designs. Since then we have had several shorter stints in the south of Vietnam and in Hungary, and both places were fascinating sources of inspiration and ideas.

I’m also inspired by mythology, spirituality and art which can have layers and layers of meaning. I think art is a form of communication about such things as nature, stories, animals, seasons, dreams and things difficult to say in words. Art uses a syntax of image and color and line to express them. I have always made things, both for fun and to express myself. I am surprised by what my soul reveals.

Where did you study art?

My Bachelor of Arts degree is in English literature—Anglo-Saxon literature! So not useful but fun!—from the University of New Mexico. I actually never got an art degree. I learned so much from my father growing up that I just keep building on those lessons and experiences.

Where can people view your art?

My art can be seen and purchased at the gallery at Montana Art and Framing, 709 Ronan Street in Missoula, on my website, MorrisonDesigns.com, and Morrison Designs on Etsy.com. There is a link on my site to my Facebook page, also called Morrison Designs, which has lots of images of my work.

When is your next show?

My next show will be June 12-14 at the 11th annual Montana Professional Artists Association Show in Hamilton.