Welsh painter Geri Morgan

A portrait of Geri Morgan, by Emma Hopkins

By John Green in Britain:

Being serious about painting

Sunday 03 October 2010

Geri Morgan has always remained immune to trendy art movements and the ephemeral fashions of the day, preferring to maintain his own style of neo-realism to which he remains true.

Born in 1926, the youngest son of Welsh parents, he joined the Brighton branch of the Communist Party as a 16-year-old in 1942. Now 84, he is still painting every day, takes an avid interest in world politics, reads the Morning Star and is an entertaining raconteur.

He began studying art part-time at St Martin’s School of Art in 1943 while waiting for his army call-up. Like many young lads he hoped to become a pilot, but he wasn’t selected,

As the war came to a close he didn’t want to become part of the army of occupation in defeated Germany. So in January 1945, at 19 years old, he decided to volunteer to work in the mines. Following initial training he started at Rossington Main Colliery in Yorkshire and became active in the Communist Party branch there. He lived in the home of a mining family and was welcomed into that close-knit community, where he felt very comfortable.

There he was “turned over” and qualified as a fully fledged collier working at the face. He quit the pit in December 1947 and went full-time to Camberwell School of Art.

In the early fifties, like so many communist artists, he felt committed to a form of Socialist Realism and painted mining scenes based on his recent working experience.

However, at Camberwell he came under the influence of neorealists like William Coldstream and they had a considerable impact on his work. “They weren’t airy fairy or romantic and were not interested in fashionable trends, but took their art seriously,” says Morgan.

He became a member of the left-wing Artists International Association and his works were included in their exhibition on the mining industry in 1950. Later he became a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy summer shows.

In 1953 he won first prize for his painting of Czech dancers in Trafalgar Square. The prize was a trip to the 4th World Festival of Youth and Students in Bucharest.

He describes this as a life-changing experience. He met young artists from other countries, including the Soviet Union, who were quite critical of Socialist Realism as it then was.

One anecdote he tells of his days in Bucharest was when he and a friend began sketching a magnificent archway.

After making only a few pencil lines in their sketch pads they were accosted by two burly and uniformed guards. It turned out that located behind the arch was the headquarters of the security services, although they only received a strict warning and nothing more serious.

Morgan went on to teach pottery and art in adult education at the Central London Institute and was a visiting tutor in painting at Hornsey College of Art and Camberwell and then latterly at the Byam Shaw School of Art of which he became principal in 1970, remaining in that post until 1991.

In the meantime his painting had moved in an abstract direction, until around 1969 when he abandoned abstraction “as a bit of a cul-de-sac” and returned, as he says, to his “objective” roots.

He left the Communist Party in 1957 in response to the show trial of leading communist Laszlo Rajk in Hungary. Today he still considers himself to be a communist and he has maintained his left-wing politics.

3 thoughts on “Welsh painter Geri Morgan

  1. Geri Morgan! You were my landlord in 1964-65! Dartmouth Park Road, if memory serves. I was there at the same time as Tunde, Clare, Vijay and others. Would love to hear from you. Email me!
    Steve Brook, Melbourne.


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