Photo by David Pisnoy on Unsplash
four orange, green, blue, and red paint rollers

Rufus Morgan received three drawing lessons from an elderly woman while stationed in Italy during WWII. That was the extent of his formal training.

Morgan took that small sampling of direction and aimed it toward his desire to learn more. He read books on art and picked up tips and pointers wherever he could on his own time. It was this desire that led Morgan to begin exhibiting his paintings with wide success.

"Morgan's work itself is straightforward and without frills - he paints quickly and without preparation, letting the paint influence him as much as the subject," said Armon Means, curator for The Renaissance Center. "His love of nature and wildlife are dominant themes, though the undercurrent of memory and childhood often play their respective roles. Glazing layers of rich color often work their way into new paintings and sometimes even over top old ones."

Each painting is still merely a canvas until Morgan sees them as completely finished - final pieces that may take days or even years. A frequent subject is the area around the Sequatchie Valley where he practiced medicine for many years as he continued his personal artistic ventures.

"Maybe it is that same level of intensity required to be an ER doctor that has allowed Morgan to dive so headlong into his painting -- the delicate precision of a doctor's hands, mirroring the delicacy of the oils and brushstrokes across the canvas," said Means.

With a body of work that spans more than 45 years, Paul Harmon is one of the most widely collected and exhibited artists from Middle Tennessee.

His paintings have been exhibited from Nashville to Paris to Asia and can be seen in museums from Cheekwood and the Tennessee State Museum to the Jacksonville Art Museum and the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

"An artist is often defined by the body of work that he has created. If one were to seek to define Paul Harmon in this manner, they would ultimately find it difficult," said Armon Means, curator for The Renaissance Center. "Harmon's body of work spans over 45 years of hard diligence and dedication to the medium of painting. This exhibition is a tribute to that lifetime of artistic passion and creative expression."

Harmon's paintings are combinations of the real world and imagination, which blend into one unique and harmonious whole.

"My work is a personal journal of my life," Harmon said. "It is therefore both serious and frivolous. Joyous and melancholic. Spiritual and erotic. The continuity is in the fact that it tracks a real life."

"He creates characters that 'live' within the painted surface, and through the use of color, pattern and form we come to know and almost inhabit that space alongside them," Means said.

Always evolving, Harmon's work stays contemporary and viable while at the same time being rooted in the formal traditions of the painted surface. He addresses visual strategies and transformations within each painting in their own unique manner.

"Though a skilled and time-tested painter, Harmon lets us feel his desire to experiment, play and entice the viewer by continuing to find new methods of engagement, whether it is through bold color or subtle texture," said Means. "In the end we are shown, through a body of work, that an artist and the pieces that he creates are truly defined by the ability to express themselves. In that effort Harmon is continually successful."

The Renaissance Center in Dickson will exhibit works by Rufus Morgan in its East and North Wing Galleries July 11-Aug. 25. An opening reception will be 6-7:30 p.m. Friday, July 13. A special reception will be 5-6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4, when the center celebrates its eighth anniversary open house and Arts Fusion III.

The Renaissance Center will feature an exhibit of Harmon's works July 11-Aug. 25 in the Visual Arts Gallery and Upper East Wing. An opening reception will be 6-7:30 p.m. Friday, July 13. A special reception will be 5-6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4, when the center celebrates its eighth anniversary open house and Arts Fusion III.

Working from studios in a 200-year-old farmhouse in Brentwood and in Paris, France, Harmon has won multiple international prizes and was chosen by the city of Caen, France, to have a major exhibition of his work as part of its official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy by Allied troops during World War II.

For more information on The Renaissance Center's exhibition of paintings by Rufus Morgan or Paul Harmon, call (615) 740-5600 or visit www.rcenter.org. The galleries at The Renaissance Center are open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday and admission and receptions are always free.

The Renaissance Center is a fine arts education and performing arts center at 855 Highway 46 South in Dickson, just 35 miles west of Nashville on Interstate 40 at exit 172.

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