Interview - David and Margaret Morris: A perfect marriage of arts and minds in joint show
From the burnished oil paintings of Turner, to Hockney’s epic canvasses and Ashley Jackson’s brooding watercolours, the Yorkshire landscape has inspired generations of artists.
It has also stirred the spirits of countless lesser-known, but equally passionate, painters and printmakers. Its ragged coastline along with the famous Moors and Dales have provided the backdrop to the work of husband and wife Margaret and David Morris for more than half a century.
The Harrogate-based couple’s passion for art can be seen in their new joint exhibition, Mostly Yorkshire, which is on display at the Turnstone Gallery, in Sandsend. They are also among the 126 artists taking part in this summer’s North Yorkshire Open Studios event, which attracted over 17,000 visitors last year.
For David and Margaret, their new exhibition offers the chance to showcase their paintings, prints, etchings and drawings. “A lot of my work is done over in that area so I started exhibiting about five years ago,” explains David. “Then the gallery owner saw Margaret’s work and suggested that we had a joint exhibition.”
The couple first met at Harrogate Art School in the early 1960s and from an early age they both wanted to be artists. Margaret was brought up on a farm between Sedbergh and Dent, in the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales. “I’ve drawn ever since I was a child,” she says. “My dad was a farmer and also an amateur watercolourist in his spare time and he was a big influence on me. He was self-taught, he started off doing primitive little paintings that later on became quite sophisticated.”
David was born in Knaresborough and he, too, was a budding artist as a child. “I always drew; it’s the thing I was best at when I was at school so I naturally gravitated towards art school,” he says.
He studied at Harrogate Art School in the mid-50s at a time when the Pop Art phenomenon was first emerging. So these must have been exciting times for an up-and-coming young artist?
“Art schools were very parochial in those days, it wasn’t really until the early 60s that Americans like Jackson Pollock, de Kooning and the well known abstract expressionists started to influence young artists over here. The people I remember being influenced by were British artists like John Piper and Graham Sutherland.”
He found himself drawn towards printing and painting and went on to become a teacher at Harrogate College, where he spent the rest of his career before retiring in 2002.
“Teaching takes just as much energy as doing your own work, which was pretty much on the back burner for several years, but now I’m doing it full time,” he says.
Margaret’s artistic endeavours were also put on hold while their children were growing up. “We got married and had children and my art was out of the picture for a while.” But she returned to art school in the 70s and it was during this period that she learnt about etching. “It’s such an interesting process and because you’re working blind on the plate you use to make a print, you don’t really know what you’ve got until you’ve finished the first stage, so it’s quite exciting.”
These days their Harrogate home has been given over to their work – they share a printing press in one of the rooms upstairs and David uses the paint-stained garage as his studio, while Margaret also has a studio which she shares with a friend in Blubberhouses.
Their work revolves around Yorkshire so what is it about the landscape they find so captivating? “It’s places that I know which I find fascinating,” says Margaret. “I don’t just drop in on a place and think ‘oh, that will make a good picture’. There has to be some connection, either a family link, or a childhood memory, like the Howgills and the open moorlands above Dent where I went to school.”
The enjoyment their work gives them is obvious, but they are worried that the skills they practice are in decline. “Drawing was a very important part of our training but very few colleges actually do drawing as part of their course now,” says Margaret. David agrees. “I think it’s very difficult for young students today to know what direction to take because there are so many influences and they don’t know how to develop their own work.”
They could do worse than take a leaf out of David and Margaret’s book whose passion for art and Yorkshire’s great outdoors remains undimmed by the passage of time.
Mostly Yorkshire at the Turnstone Gallery, Sandsend, runs to June 11.
Home is where the art is
David Morris was born in Knaresborough and his wife, Margaret, was born near Sedbergh, in the Yorkshire Dales.
David is an accomplished printmaker and has produced many etchings of Whitby and nearby coastal villages like Staithes and Robin Hood’s Bay. Among his favourite haunts are Skinningrove and Port Mulgrave.
Margaret has produced silk screen prints and paintings and her recent work has focused on pastoral landscapes, in particular the western Dales where she grew up, like the wild slopes of the Howgills and the open moorland above Dent.