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‘Building the worlds’ through the eyes of self-taught, native Detroit artist James Charles Morris

The distinctive digital style of James Charles Morris
'Building the worlds' through the eyes of self-taught, native Detroit artist James Charles Morris
“Finding Value,” a James Charles Morris exhibition currently on view at Detroit’s Norwest Gallery of Art. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

A self-taught artist, native Detroiter  James Charles Morris has been surrounded by art all his life. It has surfaced in his intellect – Black life philosophies manifested through prose and photography – and culminates in digital and mixed media projects that challenge the boundaries of computer-generated art. His current solo exhibition, Finding Value at Detroit’s Norwest Gallery, introduces a selection of intricate, new digital collages that, together, sing a song of  the artist’s colorful influences and imagination.

Morris has been engaged in creative practices for over 20 years. In 2008, he founded Definitive Style Exclusive (DSE Detroit) – a brand that uses visual statements, designs, and photography to broach difficult and controversial themes revolving around race, spirituality, history, mental balance, and community.

Forced inside by the pandemic however, Morris discovered new modes of expression through digital art-making. It started with a photograph of the late stylist and fashion icon Dapper Afrika, he recalled. “I just loved the look on his face. It had a very poetic feel about it and I thought, let me turn something into this, and I made a collage out of it.” Over the following months he continued practicing and refining what has now become his signature style.

There are several points that set Morris’ art apart in the digital realm. One is the fact that each composition is made entirely of his own unique content. His core subjects – from family and friends to cultural icons – are sourced almost entirely from photographs that Morris captured with his own camera. The florals, textures and patterns found in a subject’s skin, clothing, or in the background, are also from Morris’ photographed archives, remixed and recalibrated to create entirely new realities. “I utilize pictures that I’ve taken and I build the worlds based on those photographs,” Morris shares about his process, adding that anywhere from 200-300 images are used to construct one piece.

Another  distinguishing feature is the massive scale of Morris’ new prints.  The size, along with the artist’s commitment to preserving the integrity of the work, dictates that there will be only one of each large-format design – rendering each a rare and collectible, museum-esque masterpiece in its own right.

Even in this exhibition you can witness the evolution of his talent as he takes brush to canvas in a work staged in the back of the gallery – as if it is the finale or the icing on the cake. It is.

The untitled work was created as part of a live performance at this year’s Charles H. Wright Museum Gala. It was his first live art performance and his debut composition combining digital and painted media. The piece marks the beginning of a hand-manipulated series that promises to blossom into worlds of its own.

'Building the worlds' through the eyes of self-taught, native Detroit artist James Charles Morris
Morris adding finishing touches to his first hand-embellished work. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Seamlessly weaving from one media to the next, there is both a cultural sensitivity and a limitlessness to Morris’ creative harvest. He credits his family for providing spaces for artistic exploration. His grandmother, Dell Pryor – a Detroit gallerist of historic proportions – exposed him to many different artists and artforms that continue to inform his practice. And his mother and father, encouraged creativity with visual and verbal inspirations that he was able to cultivate into adulthood. Morris also describes a musical element to his work, “I listen to a lot of Coltrane, Dizzy, Miles, Hancock …, just a lot of the jazz greats…and then contemporaries like Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington…it really does become sort of this dance and conversation that I have with each canvas.”

Finding Value runs through November 13, 2022 at Norwest Gallery of Art, 19556 Grand River Ave, Detroit, MI 48223.

Photo Gallery courtesy James Charles Morris:

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