In an intimate memorial distinguished by steelpan music, African drumming, and military honours, on July 24 family and friends paid respect to internationally recognised artist Wilcox Morris, 72, who spent a lifetime evoking emotion through his paintbrush and guiding others to explore their inner creativity. The event was held at the Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Morris died on July 11 in Clover, South Carolina after a long battle with Alzheimers.
“My work is a composite of self in relationship to reality and the abstracts that comprise this reality,” Morris once said. “So, I search myself and I find growth will increase as long as I live, continually giving me a joie de vivre.”
Born on September 10, 1948 in Tobago, Wilcox was the fourth of ten children of Myrtle Bascombe Morris and the late Victor Morris. As a boy, he was mesmerised by colourful religious art books around the house. At age nine, while attending elementary school in Pembroke, Tobago, he won a special exhibition prize for a charcoal drawing depicting The Old Woman and the Crab. His love for art continued to flourish through Scarborough Secondary School, and in 1968 he moved to New York City, exhibiting in the legendary Greenwich Village.
He enrolled in Howard University’s Department of Fine Arts the following year, studying under master artist Lois Mailou Jones, and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in art. After graduation, he enlisted in the US army as a medic stationed in Germany. He later earned a master’s degree in business administration and pursued doctoral work in psychology at Morgan State University.
As former director of the National Fine Arts Centre and co-founder of the Art Committee of Tobago, in the 1980s he organised two international art conventions, Art ‘84 Tobago and Art ‘88 Tobago. In the 2000s, he returned to give back to his home by helping revitalise the art scene and develop a younger generation of artists.
The vibrant African-Caribbean folklore and folklife, Anansi stories, the tradition of masquerading, steelpan, Carnival, and the occasional politics of his home often found their way into his artwork. Paintings such as Cry Freedom, in recognition of Haiti and the controversial Surrender, depicting the aftermath of the attempted coup in Trinidad and Tobago in 1990, are among his most popular work.
His legacy includes a body of work across the globe, from the United States, to Europe, and the wider Caribbean region, with exhibitions in DC, Maryland, California, Colorado, Martinique, France, Germany, Barbados, Philadelphia, and New York.
His community involvement includes organisations such as Pan Masters Steel Orchestra, TransAfrica, DC Caribbean Carnival, Inc, the Institute of Caribbean Studies, the TT Working Women’s Committee, the Uptown Fascinators, and the Tobago Visual Arts Association.
Morris’ art has reached the White House, the homes of heads of state, banks, hotels, churches, political and non-profit organisations, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States, and the Tobago House of Assembly/Shaw Park Complex.
His recognition includes reviews by the Washington Post, Washington Times, the Washington City Paper, CaribNation TV, Osiris Productions, the Caribbean Sun, the Trinidad Express, the Trinidad Guardian, the Tobago News, Newsday, the Sunseeker, the Barbados Art Advocate, Lorient, Caribbean Pride magazine, Heidelberger Tageblatt, Heidelberg Herald Post, the International Review of African-American Art, Caribbeana (WPFW 89.3 FM), and The Caribbean Experience (WHUR 96.3 FM) among other media outlets.
Of the many titles he held throughout his life, that of Caribbean man was one he treasured most and he was committed to helping those close to him succeed, and to using his talents to help advance society. More than painting pretty colours or placing a random design on canvas, Morris intended to make a statement, to express his philosophy, and to “provoke some thought that one should not be complacent at any point in life you may be,” he stated.
Tributes, images of his art, and written sentiments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Internment of his ashes is planned for later this year at the Scarborough Methodist Cemetery in Tobago.