July 29, 2009

Artist explores dreams and myths at Main Street studio

As published in The Erin Advocate

Before Paul Morin paints, he charges himself up with the sights and sounds and smells of the environment he wants to capture – whether it is an Erin forest or an African tribal ceremony.

With an established reputation for dramatic paintings, award-winning book illustration and eclectic music, he continues to pursue new inspiration for his work.

"I rely on dreams, as gifts," he said. "I am a sponge...I like to be inside the forest, or the dance. That's where I am inspired to paint, to grasp the essence of it."
Morin moved to Erin Township 21 years ago, but he has now opened a storefront art gallery in the village, at 110 Main Street. He had a gallery for several years in Rockwood, near his home and studio, but he was impressed with Erin's busy downtown and decided to move his retail location here.

"The market was right, due to the recession, but when there's a crisis, that's the time to take a risk," he said. "If people see the paintings, they're going to fall in love with them."

Despite an international career, he says it makes good business sense to have his own local gallery. The time and expense of mounting a major show can make it hard for an artist to break even. Morin found he sold most of his paintings at shows when he was there in person to promote them, so he finds it more practical to do that in his own space, close to home.

The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm, or call 519-833-9906 to arrange a viewing anytime. Most of the paintings on display are landscapes (the most popular with the public), but his overall work also includes abstracts, animals and explorations of symbols from primitive cultures. His books and CDs are also available. To see a broader sampling, go to www.paulmorinstudios.com.

The paintings combine high contrast with subtle details and unique perspective angles, and he is able to create powerful lighting and shadows within the art.

Morin was born in Calgary and grew up near Montreal. He got interested in art during a high school placement at an advertising agency, where he saw that the sketch artist had the most interesting job; but he was not able to get into any art schools in Quebec. He ended up studying a wide range of arts at Grant MacEwen College in Edmonton, illustration and photography at Sheridan College in Oakville, then painting at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto.

As a young man he visited Guinea, the former French colony in West Africa where his father worked for a few years, and was moved by the rhythms and exotic imagery of the native culture. He has since travelled to study cultures in China, Australia, Africa and the Americas, and now does multimedia lectures on mythology, anthropology and biodiversity at conferences and schools. He plans to lease his Erin gallery out to other artists for three months each year so he can continue his travels.

For his first book illustration, he took the risk of going to Africa at his own expense to find material. Then he had to persuade the publisher to accept richly painted images that were totally unlike the watercolours often used in children's books. The result was The Orphan Boy (1990), a commercial success that also won him a Governor-General's Award for Illustration.

Early in his career he worked for ad agencies, which he concedes could have influenced his ability to "clobber people over the head" with bold paintings. Eventually, he grew tired of other people getting credit for his work, so he switched to freelance pursuits.

Along with his artistic skills, he seems to have mastered his business skills. A painting he might sell to the public for $1,000 could go for $20,000 if he sold it to a company for a product label or ad campaign. "I know the value to them. I have learned to defend the value of my art," he said.

He has exhibited in museums across Canada, including solo shows at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. His local shows include several at the Burdette Gallery in Orton and the Wellington County Museum.

His work has appeared in Newsweek, Maclean’s and in the Society of Illustrators annuals, and his 14 book projects have earned more than 25 national and international awards.