April 12, 2012 § Leave a comment
How do you define achievement?
Is it by grabbing the nearest yardstick? Collecting the most “Likes” on facebook? Perhaps graduating Magna cum laude from Harvard?
How about the moment when you actually hear someone else call you an artist? That is what it took for this week’s artist, Alec Morrison, to finally title himself “artist”.
Raised in the bilingual – English & French – and multi-cultural town of Haileybury, Morrison was introduced to both French-Canadian and Native American influences at a very young age. Born and raised in this picturesque area just north of the Temagami, he grew up with a profound appreciation for hand-made and hand-crafted goods.
His colourful musical career began early as well. From the tender age of seven he has played piano; a few years later, at age thirteen, he picked up his first guitar. His upbringing consisted primarily of Blues music, but with the advent of his budding guitar talents, his tastes shifted to punk bands like the Sex Pistols, NoFX, and Operation Ivy.
“Nowadays,” he admits, “I’ve moved into an extremely eclectic mix of stuff, and also Celtic rhythms.” As an afterthought he adds, “And also old country music.” He smiles at his own taste. (For a taste of his music, head here => http://itunes.apple.com/au/album/already-been-where-i-was-goin…/id442130024 )
The ushering-in of the new millenium not only marked an important calendar-change, but also a turning point for Morrison’s own path: he left high school to play in the punk band Bayl out of London, Ontario. When the band broke up, his itchy feet took him to the western reaches of the country where he spent nearly four years off and on, moving between Port Alberni, B.C. and Canmore, Banff, and Calgary, Alberta. “The mountains are beautiful,” recalls Morrison, “and the river water is a crazy hue of blue. [My] first time there, I kept looking over my shoulder to look at the view of the mountains. It was a great vibe.”
Unfortunately, during his adventures out West, Alec’s mental health broke down and he was diagnosed as bi-polar. Unstable for a long period of time, paranoid and delusional, it was some time before he got help. Admitted to the psychiatric ward, Morrison came to terms with his illness and was released, only to be institutionalized again several months later. He spent close to four years in and out of mental health care facilities as he grappled with his own demons.
“Manias are incredibly dangerous – if severe enough – it’s an incredibly complicated, and underrated, sometimes ignored, illness… I’ve gotten to a point where I can manage it, thankfully… and I can reflect on the experience, and create with that energy. But it’s a forever kind of thing, I have lots of people helping me.”
Morrison proudly shares that he’s been both healthy and stable now for seven years; a milestone for anyone who spent more than half that time in and out of hospitals.
But it wasn’t until after this point in Alec’s life that he developed an interest in visual art. During a search for an artist capable of drawing a loon for a tattoo, he came across renown Native Artist Hugh Mackenzie of Bear Island. During the five months of lessons, he learned a great variety of techniques from stencil to sponge, but most importantly he learned a great deal about life.
With a renewed passion in music and art, he started the band Crank Radio in 2005, which lasted up until 2009. His interest in blacksmithing grew out of his drive for self-sufficiency. Intent on pursuing a craft that he could work on during the day when not making music, Morrison was first intrigued by the concept that he could create his own tools with nothing but a hammer, tongs, anvil and forge fire. That Christmas, he asked for a couple of books on blacksmithing. The pages of these books did nothing but whet his whistle, and, rather than sating his curiosity, served only to pique it. “I got into the subject really deep. I found the science behind metallurgy fascinating and the method too…” he tells us. “A couple years after that, my dad told me that a course was being offered at Fleming, so I enrolled.” Nearly through the course, he was forced to withdraw due to a health scare. “Unfortunately, my health wasn’t great, and I missed a lot of school; I might try it a second time in the future.” Lucky for us, he stayed in the program long enough to create some beautiful works of art.
“It was only a couple of months ago that I realized I was an artist. I asked my girlfriend what she told people I did for a living, and she said “that you’re an artist”.” Calling himself an artist offers him the freedom to be his own boss and to constantly create whether writing poetry, sculpting in plaster, or shaping hot metal with a hammer…
His parting random fact was admitting that he wears kilts. “It’s a Scottish heritage thing, and if Ashley MacIsaac can get away with it, so can I. The way I see it is: if you can’t wear a kilt at a punk show in Canada, then the terrorists have already won.” He offers up a brief chuckle. But the kilt stays on…
Make sure you come to HSTA’s I Made It! Spring Show ‘n Sale. Alec has graciously offered to provide musical entertainment: Saturday, April 21st, 10am – 2pm at the Haliburton Campus.
To view his mini-documentary titled “Already Been Where I Was Going”, filmed at the old North Bay Psychiatric Hospital, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vNRluaMOv0&feature=related
For more information on mental health, visit http://www.cmha.ca/bins/index.asp
To learn more about any of the programs at the Haliburton School of The Arts, please go to www.hsta.ca