Fabricating and Casting His Story


brad-morton-studio

Brad Morton

By Brett Levine//Photo by Beau Gustafson

In an age of relentless self-promotion, fleeting recognition, and a seemingly endless onslaught of social media, it seems surprising when an artist with a decades-long career seems to fly under the radar. Yet in many ways, for Birmingham sculptor Brad Morton, this is the case. His works are installed on every campus of the St. Vincent’s Health System; five pieces are held in the University of Alabama at Birmingham collection, including major works at North Pavilion and Spain Rehabilitation Hospital; pieces are in the collections of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Fairhope Library, and, in recognition of his artistry, Arlington National Cemetery with a memorial for the Fourth Infantry Division.

But if you ask Morton why he is not better known within the wider Birmingham community, he has an interesting answer: “Even in graduate school, I never believed that you had to find a style and stick with it,” he says. “I’ve always worked in two ways—casting and fabrication—and I have always enjoyed both. I learned bronze casting from Cordray Parker very early as a student at UAB, but I also studied with John Rietta, who taught me fabrication.” It is the varying senses of accomplishment that each provides that makes them special, Morton explains. “I think people may not realize how different these ways of working are. With bronze casting, every single step in the process is set, and each can be incredibly time consuming. With fabrication, you may be able to go into the studio with a pattern in the morning, cut your shapes, tack-weld them together, and have a good idea of your form in the afternoon.”

This combination of approaches has remained central to Morton’s work: pieces including both casting and fabrication have been key to Morton’s practice for more than four decades. Both “Seminar,” at The Altamont School, and the nine-foot tall “Contemporary Couple” on the Auburn-Montgomery campus combine cast pieces on top with Cor-Ten steel bases. Of course, he also works in singular materials, including stainless steel, bronze, and Cor-Ten steel.

These varying materials, styles, and techniques reinforce Morton’s belief that the pursuit of creativity is really what underpins his practice. “I still don’t know if I’ve found my signature style,” he laughs. “You see, sculpture is slow. Literally, everything about sculpture is slow. Think about the fact that when you make a bronze, you’re patterning, making a mold, casting in wax, investing the work—all before you get to the point of pouring metal, finishing, or patinating the work. So I simply liked being able to cast and fabricate, and I didn’t see why I had to say that I preferred one or the other.”

This passionate pursuit of creativity also means that Morton values new ideas and approaches. Recently, he completed a large-scale, site-specific collaborative installation with Sara Garden Armstrong, pairing patterned, cut, and pieced metal with forms made of layers of paper, all lit from inside. “I had some forms I had been working with for years, but not on this scale. The idea grew from an earlier collaboration with Longin Soverow, which I had always wanted to illuminate. I finally had the opportunity, and the space, and Sara and I worked on the idea in my studio until it came together as we’d imagined. It turned out that many elements of our visual vocabularies are very similar.” The work, which adorns a private residence in downtown Birmingham, is a delicate combination of organic shapes, lit from the interior, bursting forth into space from the wall.

Now perceived as a pioneer, Morton has spent a career living and working in downtown Birmingham. His vision has resulted in the rehabilitation and restoration of a home and studio that make living and working in the city ideal. But, he also recognizes that Birmingham can have its own unique challenges. “I understood early in my career that you could work here, but to make it as an artist you probably had to show and sell in places other than Birmingham.” This has resulted in a long career showing in the Southwest, particularly Santa Fe and Taos. “I’ve recently begun exhibiting with Vivo in Santa Fe, and I still have works available from Shidoni,” Morton says.

What results is a body of work that is distinguished by its variety and complexity—delicately morphing groupings of anthropomorphic bronzes grouped under titles like “Couple” and “Family” resonate against more geometric forms that reinterpret the natural world. But none of this bothers Morton. He simply sees these variations as chapters in an ongoing story, one that proves that how you say something is easily as interesting as what you say. For Brad Morton, what he says may or may not be cast permanently—it could just as easily be a complete (artistic) fabrication.

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