1990s: Top Form

Pard Morrison, sculptor
"There’s something about working on my pieces from start to finish that’s really appealing to me,” says contemporary sculptor Pard Morrison, shown at his studio in Colorado Springs. Photo by Mary Neiberg

Geometric sculptor constructs contemporary art and an increasingly esteemed career

Pard Morrison attributes his career as an artist to a “succession of miracles”: meeting supportive dealers, connecting with loyal collectors, and having his work in the right place at the right time to be noticed by curators.

Like any business, though – and for Morrison, art is a full-time job – success comes down to offering a quality product with wide appeal. Morrison’s work is just that; it pleases critics and charms everyday customers.

“A lot of collectors are drawn to my work because they have an understanding of geometric abstraction and minimalism,” Morrison said, referring to the 20th-century art movements that influence his thinking. “But a lot of people just like it because it has a painterly quality.”

The attractive combination has helped him build an increasingly esteemed career, with solo shows at contemporary art galleries in Santa Fe, Marfa, San Francisco, and New Orleans, among other art centers. His individual works, which galleries list for as much as $30,000, are held in the permanent collections of the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center, the city of Vail, and The Venetian luxury hotel in Las Vegas. To that list, he recently added a profile-boosting commission for a monumental, outdoor sculpture at the new American Embassy in The Hague, Netherlands.

His pieces – usually hard-edged grids of greens, yellows, oranges, blues, and reds – are more complex than they appear. Morrison works on aluminum panels that he folds into boxes, and he uses enamel paints designed for aircraft. Every color is hand-applied, and each must be fired separately in a kiln before the next one is put on. Paint, fire, paint, fire, paint, fire.

Each sculpture can take weeks to produce, and the process is unforgiving. If a color is mixed wrong or a layer improperly cured, the whole thing is ruined in a flash. That’s why Morrison, who graduated from CSU with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1997, does everything himself, fabricating, welding, and painting in the garage studio behind his Colorado Springs house; he cures pigments at a nearby powder-coating facility.

Morrison carefully maps out grids before he starts a piece, then applies pigments as his eye and imagination direct him. The finished paintings emerge from his “interest in color as a compositional tool and not a metaphorical tool,” he said. In other words, he’s not painting a flower or tree, but is creating a conversation between shapes and tones. “I’m not representing anything. I’m more interested in the dialogue,” he explained.

And the dialogue can be expressive. Morrison allows himself a free hand as a painter; he’s not especially concerned if a line or color field is not precise. Look closely, and it’s clear these industrial-influenced objects were not stamped out by a machine. “There are imperfections all over the work,” he said. “I like that.”

These traits add complexity, said Valerie Santerli, who directs Denver’s RULE Gallery, where Morrison has exhibited.

“You see the structure, its stability and strength, and that comes from the rigidity of his material choice,” Santerli said. “But you also see its emotional depth. The artist’s mark-making within the color application has such a human quality to it.”

That’s evident in 2014’s An Accumulation of Benevolence, installed outside CSU’s Lory Student Center. Twenty multicolored, aluminum blocks rise skyward in three columns. It’s an optimistic piece that celebrates the human spirit.

Another sizable piece was displayed in a pond at Denver Botanic Gardens when the curator for the U.S. Department of State’s Art in Embassies program happened to visit – and happened to be looking for a piece to stand in a pond at the U.S. Embassy in The Hague. That led to Morrison’s largest piece to date: Ghost on the Shore, a 30-foot-tall sculpture that required construction at a local crane shop.

The piece holds great meaning for Morrison. Being part of the U.S. Embassy collection means interpreting this country – its ideas and ambitions, its intellectual curiosity, and the value it places on culture – for the world.

“The more I can remain true to my work,” he said, “the better it makes me feel.”