by Mimi Montgomery
photograph by Travis Long
By day, Michael Morrison works as an investigator for the United States Department of Agriculture. After hours, you can almost always find him in his studio. Painting, photography, mixed media – Morrison does it all. “It has to be coming from here,” he says, placing his hands over his heart. Raised by an artistic family in Texas, he’s been creating since he was young. His travels in the natural beauty of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, and Italy have all inspired his love of painting landscapes, as has his education and his background as a horticulturist. “All these experiences helped me (become) self-taught in art,” he says. They affect “my paintings as well as my philosophy on life.”
He may be self-taught, but he’s won first place in the USDA’s Art and Agriculture competition the past three years, and his art was selected to be featured in 100 Raleigh-area buses as part of the Art on the Move contest. His work is currently on display at the USDA Gallery in Washington, D.C., Northgate Mall in Durham, and Nickelpoint Brewing Co. in Raleigh.
All of that is exciting, but the message behind his paintings is what Morrison most values. When his wife, Ivana, was diagnosed with cancer a second time, he began a series of abstract paintings (Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock, and Pino Daeni are role models) symbolizing the heartache surrounding the disease.
It also inspired him to create art for philanthropic reasons. He’s made paintings on ceiling tiles for Duke Raleigh Hospital’s Cancer Center, so patients can look up at them during chemotherapy treatments; he also regularly donates a portion of the proceeds from art he sells to nonprofits like the Spirit of Harmony Foundation, Hearts of Color, and Blooming with Autism.
“It’s all about giving and human emotion,” he says. “It means so much to be able to give back to people.”