James Fenton/The Daily TimesArtist and educator Rikk Morris, 74, will jury an upcoming exhibition at Crash Music, in Aztec.processed by IntelliTune on
James Fenton/The Daily Times Artist and educator Rikk Morris, 74, will jury an upcoming exhibition at Crash Music, in Aztec. processed by IntelliTune on 09112012 163926 with script _New - Normal- CTP
AZTEC — Artist and musician Rikk Morris has left his mark in a lot of different corners of the country over a career in arts and education spanning a half-century, and this month he will put on a judge's hat to jury a freewheeling art exhibition at Crash Music.

The show will feature art submitted by people from Aztec and the surrounding area, and will be on display at the music store in Aztec during the month of December.

Born in Monrovia, Calif., Morris, 74, recently moved to Aztec from Albuquerque with partner and fellow artist Lydia Velose.

His resume is a travelogue through the myriad gardens and labyrinths of art: he received his bachelor of fine art at California State University, Los Angeles; studied under "social landscape" photographer Lee Friedlander at the University of California at Los Angeles, directed the film "Cahill Family," a documentary on an artist couple; performed musical and percussive spoken word pieces; arranged "happenings" for educational TV; and made paintings, drawings, and photographs along with his ephemeral "mail art" - postcard pieces he has sent to friends around the globe.

Asked what artists have inspired him, Morris cited surrealist Marcel Duchamp and Bertolt Brecht, creator of "epic theater.


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One spoken word piece, "Blue Grain," asks about the nature of art and where it can be traced, a question that runs, slips, and snarls like an unruly echo through much of Morris' work.

"Oh, oh, oh, huffin', puffin', hyperventilatin'

Just enough air left to laugh.

The voice is a mystery we all misunderstand.

The sounds we make are pieces of a puzzle in the sand."

"I've always felt that art is a way of life, not a collection of objects," Morris said, his voice softened to a near-whisper by Parkinson's disease.

Handsprings and Finger Snaps Plate #9: Joe Louis Armijo by Rikk Morrisprocessed by IntelliTune on 09112012   164032with script _New - Normal- CTP
Handsprings and Finger Snaps Plate #9: Joe Louis Armijo by Rikk Morris processed by IntelliTune on 09112012 164032 with script _New - Normal- CTP

Morris is keeping busy in his new hometown. In addition to judging the upcoming art show he continues to explore his art.

"I have been making a series of masks and doing what I call "visual poetry,' often using watercolors and ink," Morris said, sitting in the kitchen behind Crash Music's studio space. "Oh, and I am learning blues harmonica and the mouth bow, said to be the oldest stringed instrument in the world."

While he's had a wide-ranging career in art and in teaching, his artwork will not be found in galleries or museums.

"His impulse," said George Rowe, owner of Crash Music and sponsor of the upcoming exhibition, said, "is to avoid the commodification of art, to reach a point where the familiar becomes unfamiliar. He likes to survey the gap between the impulse to create and the execution."

Rowe and Morris met in Albuquerque in the 1980s at Truman Middle School, where they both taught. "Rikk has saved my life 17 times, at least," he said.

Morris says he went into special education primarily working with emotionally or visually impaired children for more than 35 years as a way to be creative while eschewing the gallery system.

And what was the secret to his success in the classroom? "Empathy," he said.

Morris has also taught informally, too, mostly in other local artists' homes. A few years ago he led a five-week course on art and ideas with the Wild Women Writing group in Durango, Colo., sponsored by the Women's Resource Center.

"The student has to work to understand," Rowe said of Morris' approach to teaching. "He wouldn't give you too much all the information you have to work at it. And you'd see yourself discovering this stuff. Instead of Rikk just telling you about it. That's how he would teach these artists. He would go to their studios." Morris has worked with a handful of notable Four Corners artists, including Jenny Treanor, Susan Merrill and Colin Rooney, a musician with the Salt Fire Circus.

Though his hands tremble slightly from the Parkinson's disease that he was diagnosed with seven years ago, it clearly has not slowed him down. A recent deep-brain implant surgery has greatly reduced the involuntary physical jerks that used to interfere with his work.

As judge, Morris looks to his mother for guidance. "My mom had a crystal ball," he says, grinning. "Give accurate readings."