A solo exhibition from Detroit art royalty debuts at the Norwest Gallery of Art

James Charles Morris is the grandson of Dell Pryor, the ‘great dame’ of the Detroit’s art scene

click to enlarge James Charles Morris is a self-taught multidisciplinary artist who works in painting, printmaking, illustration, collage, and photography. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
James Charles Morris is a self-taught multidisciplinary artist who works in painting, printmaking, illustration, collage, and photography.

James Charles Morris is a self-taught multidisciplinary artist who has been engaged in the creative visual media practices of painting, printmaking, illustration, collage, and photography for more than 20 years. He has used his work to engage in various social conversations addressing themes of race, spirituality, history, mental wellness, and community.

He’s also the descendant of Detroit art royalty — Dell Pryor, the gallerist dubbed the “grand dame” of Detroit’s art scene, is his grandmother — so art, Detroit, and Black entrepreneurship has long been in his bloodline.

Morris founded Definitive Style Exclusive in 2008, the unique boutique that sat on the corner of Grand River Avenue and Broadway Street for years. The tiny shop was often frequented by Detroiters and visitors alike who admired Morris’s unique T-shirt and accessory designs. The business has since moved online, and the owner has been focused on his art.

“Once a concept comes to mind for a collage,” Morris writes in his artist statement, “I go out and I photograph what I see as the necessary textures and colors needed for that piece, found amongst things we normally take for granted. Once I’ve gathered enough images to fill my palate, I start to build the piece by cutting out elements from each photograph, and putting them together like a puzzle. For me, it’s like a dance, allowing the subject to be the rhythm I move to.”

With this latest exhibition, Finding Value, Morris aims to explore the relationship of personal and social values, and the moments of growth that transpire from it, through a collection of mixed media collages. A year-long process to complete, each piece presents an emotional test that will be communicated through vocal audio recordings from the artist, which will be featured along with the artwork.

Via press release, Morris notes that his artistic influence began to manifest at a very early age, as he took found objects from around his home and created new works. However, his familial connections also informed his development. His gallerist grandmother who was a gatekeeper in the Detroit arts scene across four decades exposed Morris to many emerging and master artists.

“Curiosity is my driving force, it allows me to explore, see, and feel things in a way that creates a sense of wonder towards my work,” Morris writes. “That spirit has been a part of my artistic journey since childhood, and in my current practice of digital collage, I find myself reverting back to a time when I would create whenever I felt inspired, while using any and everything I could find at my disposal, to make the art in my mind. How I create my work involves all the different practices, influences and experiences that I’ve engaged in for more than 30 years.”

He writes that some of those names that ultimately influenced and inspired Morris include Adger Cowans, Hugh Grannum, Lester Sloan, Al Loving, Gilda Snowden, Shirley Woodson, Anthony Barboza, and Eric Pryor, among others. As a native Detroiter, Morris has also always emphasized Detroit in his work.

“With Finding Value, I found it necessary to portray moments of personal introspection, as reflected through each figure immortalized in the work,” Morris writes. “Reinvention, self-confidence, pride, purpose, love, inspiration, mental wellness, and spirituality are the themes of each piece.”

The exhibit will debut with an opening reception from 6-9 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15 at Norwest Gallery of Art; 19556 Grand River Ave., Detroit; 313-293-7344; norwestgallery.com. Show runs through Sunday, Nov. 13.

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About The Author

Biba Adams

Biba Adams is a Detroit-based national freelance writer. Her work has been featured in Visit Detroit, Model D, VIBE, and more. She is currently working on her debut book, Scenes From a Renaissance: Detroit Hip-Hop 1996-2006.
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