Daybreak Star hosts 'Refuse to Die' - Prolific painter Andrew Morrison is living his dream

Andrew Morrison is living his dream. An American Indian artist who is part Apache and part Haida, Morrison, at only 25, is doing something few artists of any age manage to accomplish in a lifetime of work: He's making a living doing what he loves.

An exhibit of Morrison's work is currently on display at the art gallery in the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Discovery Park. Co-sponsored by the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation and Four Worlds International, the show, which features Indian themes, is called "Refuse to Die."

Morrison said he titled the show as such because he was deathly ill while he was planning the exhibition. "I thought I was going to die," he remembered with a grimace. "But (the title) not only applies to me, it applies to Indians in general."

It was an opportunity he just couldn't pass up. "I've been wanting to throw a show in this building since I was a kid," the Ballard resident said of a place that was a second home to him as he was growing up in Seattle.

A 1990 graduate of Mount Lake Terrace High School, Morrison landed a full scholarship at the Rhode Island School of Design. "It's one of the top 10 art schools in the world," he said.

However, he took a break after only a year and returned to Seattle to take it easy for awhile, to work on his paintings and to "just chill out," Morrison said.

It was too late to get back in to the Rhode Island school by the time he decided to return because of missed deadlines, Morrison said. "So I ended up applying to several other art schools in the U.S."

The upshot was that he ended up at the Museum School of Fine Art in Boston, again on a full scholarship, "which is really rare," Morrison said.

By then, Morrison had already made a name for himself by painting huge murals. "I did a whole boat load of murals all over Washington," he said of experience that counted toward his bachelors of fine art degree at Boston school. "They gave me 60 credits in art in advance."

His portfolio also gave him some extra status at the school, Morrison said. "They put me up there with the big dogs," is how he put it. "That was really cool. I appreciated that."

But the experience Morrison had already amassed presented a problem. "All those classes I took, I pretty much knew what they were teaching."

Still, he was able to continue painting murals on the side, including one of Fenway Park on a six-story building, Morrison said. There were other, less tangible benefits to his stay in Boston as well. "I just grew a lot and got a lot of wisdom after living there for three years," he explained.

Morrison, who graduated from the Boston school last year, said he did all the works in the Daybreak Star exhibit in a year's time. The pieces make use of several different media, from pencil to acrylic paints; some of the portraits are based on photographs. He also uses Krylon spray paint when he does large works such as murals, though Morrison said he also uses charcoal, watercolors and pen and ink.

Morrison said he doesn't prefer working in any one medium. "They're kind of like your kids," he explained. "You don't favor one more than the other."

While the Daybreak Star exhibit features Indian themes, Morrison's works are diverse, covering "everything and anything under the sun," he said.

That includes portraits, animals, boats, landscapes, cityscapes, spoken-word poems on canvas and hip-hop graffiti-themed work. "Sometimes I like to paint cars-literally," Morrison added.

Indeed, he customized his own Dodge Neon with Krylon paint so that the front is a yellow that shades into red and finally black at the back of the car.

Morrison has won so many awards he said he's lost track of them, but he's also making a name for himself in the art world in general.

Morrison recently played a prominent part, for example, in "Julyuamish," a Native American art show in Port Falls, Idaho. "I was the featured artist right out of college." He also has an exhibit of hip-hop art currently on display at the Gallery Mnemonics in Pioneer Square.

Morrison has been tapped to provide art for the poster for the Indian cultural center's yearly powwow, and the same art will be sold on T-shirts during the weekend event this summer. "These people here treat me with so much respect," he said.

Asked whether he was an inspiration to other American-Indian artists, Morrison wasn't sure. "A lot of people tell me I am," he said. In any event, Morrison said, he hasn't had to work a 9-5 job since he graduated from art school.

He's grateful for that, too. "A lot of artists don't get to that point till they're 50 or 60," Morrison marveled.

"Refuse to Die" has been extended to the end of July at the Daybreak Star Indian Art Gallery. Hours are 10-5 Monday through Friday.[[In-content Ad]]