We are deeply saddened by the passing of Michael Morris, who died on 18 November 2022 at his home in Brentwood Bay, BC. Painter, curator, photographer, video and performance artist, we will remember Michael for his passion, endless enthusiasm, curiosity and warmth. For the Belkin, Michael Morris is a constant and defining thread that runs through our programs and collections. In 1969, he curated with Alvin Balkind Concrete Poetry: An Exhibition in Four Parts at the UBC Fine Arts Gallery (now the Belkin), which would inspire in part the Belkin’s 2012 exhibition Letters: Michael Morris and Concrete Poetry, displaying for the first time all seven of Morris’s monumental Letter paintings from the late 1960s (Los Angeles Letter is in the Belkin’s collection). With his friend and collaborator Vincent Trasov, he founded the Morris/Trasov Archive that is housed at the Belkin and formed the basis for the Image Bank exhibition first opened at KW Institute, Berlin in 2019 and later at the Belkin in 2021. When the Fine Arts Gallery first took custody of the Morris/Trasov archive in the early 1990s, it did not have a home and the gallery did not have an archive. It was a long collaboration that resulted in a unique and very active gallery archive.
Scott Watson, the Belkin’s former director, remembers his dear friend: “Michael mentored many young artists and curators including me. In 1987 I was suddenly out of work and Michael urged me to come to Berlin where he and Vincent were living post their DAAD residency. The ten months I spent there was a late coming of age as I learnt the German and European perspectives. Michael was attentive, generous and wise as well as being a great deal of fun. He had in the late 1960s transitioned from being a painter to being committed to a lived life as art. ‘I am a citizen of art. Art is my country.’ Michael did not conform to any consensus about what was cool or interesting. Whenever he saw a spark, he encouraged a flame.”
We share our best thoughts with his husband, Rahmi Emin, his family and the art community that meant so much to him.
Born in Saltdean, England, Michael Morris immigrated to Canada with his mother in 1946 and settled just outside of Victoria. In his roles as curator and, primarily, as an artist, Morris was a key figure of the West Coast art scene from the 1960s to the present. Morris studied at the University of Victoria and then at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University), followed by graduate studies at Slade School of Fine Art at the University College London, during the 1960s. There he became interested in the work of Fluxus and the European avant-garde, which had a profound influence on his work and on the Vancouver experimental art scene in general. In 1969 he founded Image Bank with Vincent Trasov, a system of postal correspondence between participating artists for the exchange of information and ideas. The intention of Image Bank was to create a collaborative, process-based project in the hopes of engendering a shared creative consciousness—in opposition to the alienation endemic to modern capitalist society—through the deconstruction and recombination of its ideological forms. Morris was acting curator of the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Centre for Communications and the Arts at Simon Fraser University and had many guest curatorships at other institutions. In 1973, he co-founded the Western Front—one of Canada’s first artist-run centres—and served as co-director for seven years. In 1990 he and Trasov founded the Morris/Trasov Archive, now housed at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, to research contemporary art. Morris has participated in artist-in-residence programs both in Canada at the Banff Centre (1990) and at Open Studio (2003) and internationally at Berlin Kunstlerprogramm (1981-1998). Morris has had solo and collaborative exhibitions nationally and internationally, and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2015 Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Visual Arts, the 2011 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts and an Honorary Doctorate from Emily Carr University.