Morton, Doug (1926-2004)

Douglas Morton, “2 Plus 2,” 1966, acrylic on canvas, 215.1 x 215.3 cm, MacKenzie Art Gallery, University of Regina Collection.
MacKenzie Art Gallery 1966-007

Douglas Gibb Morton was one of the Regina Five group of artists whose exhibition at the National Gallery in 1961 was proclaimed as a watershed for the development of abstract art in Canada. Born on November 26, 1926, and raised in Winnipeg, he studied with LeMoine Fitzgerald, of the Group of Seven, and continued his studies in Los Angeles, London and Paris. Morton returned to Canada in 1954 to manage the family business, MacKay-Morton Ltd., an industrial pipe distributor in Regina. A typical weekday for the next decade would allow for two painting sessions of two hours each, one beginning at 6 a.m. and the other at 10 p.m.

His practical business sense was in sharp contrast to his adventurous and experimental approach to painting. Morton was keen on using bold colour and large canvasses; he was also a pioneer in the technique of attaching objects - a piece of Styrofoam or wood, for example - to the work in order to extend the image. Morton's inventiveness was especially appreciated at the Emma Lake workshops, where every summer twenty-five artists from across Canada and the United States would converge on the quiet Saskatchewan locale. He would arrive with his car jammed full of industrial paints and unconventional tools of application, which he would use energetically and spontaneously.

Morton's work was not as popularly received as those of fellow exhibitors Ron Bloore, Ted Godwin, Ken Lochhead and Art McKay after their 1961 breakthrough in Ottawa. Other artists, who were aware of his exceptional eye for detail, did appreciate his painting and considered his reputation to be underrated. In addition to the rest of the Regina Five, Morton enjoyed a professional relationship with the American artist Barnett Newman, another proponent of bold colour and size. His noteworthy paintings include “Brownscape” (1961), “Fractured Black” (1964), “Green Centre” (1967) and “Token” (1970). Lochhead associated Morton's work with “wholeness of colour, full-bodied shapes of colour within the tradition of Matisse and Butler, Fauves and post-Fauves painters of Paris. He was pushing the frontiers of colour more than any other painter I knew.”

After leaving MacKay-Morton in 1967, Morton spent two years as director of Visual Arts and associate professor of Art at the University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus. He was also a teacher and administrator at York University (1969-80), the University of Victoria (1980-85), and the Alberta College of Art (1985-87). He received an honorary degree from the University of Regina in 2001. Morton died on January 4, 2004.

John Chaput