By Katie Miller
“I have something in common with my father,” jazz guitarist Briand Morrison remarked at the beginning of his March 19 performance, “Musical Impressions: The Art of George Morrison.” While each artist discovered his gift — his “thing,” Morrison humbly noted — early in life, it’s language that separates the two. Specifically, Briand draws on the language of jazz, whereas his late father, nationally renowned Ojibwe artist George Morrison, used the language of line, stroke, color, and form.
In front of a packed auditorium for this year’s annual Friends of the University Libraries Appreciation event, Briand masterfully wove together these related but disparate languages for a 35-minute jazz guitar performance, accompanied by a slideshow of his father’s work. The captivated audience consisted of Friends of the University Libraries, staff, visual art and jazz guitar aficionados, and members of the Morrison family — including Briand’s mother, celebrated artist and feminist advocate Hazel Belvo.
In a Q&A after the performance, Briand elaborated on his father’s artistic career, as well as the process of putting together his presentation, or “mini-retrospective.” This was really difficult, Briand admitted: “my dad was a big man.” The elder Morrison’s life and legacy is, indeed, difficult to overstate. Born in 1919, George was a member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. In addition to his own artistic practice, he held teaching positions in universities across the country, including in the art and American Indian Studies departments at the U of M. In 2022, George was honored by the United States Postal Service with a stamp series featuring five of his paintings. His wood sculpture, “Wood Collage: Landscape,” is part of the collection at the U of M Weisman Art Museum.
Briand’s own career reflects a similar dynamism. In addition to performing jazz, he is both a composer and producer. In 2021, he was a fiscal recipient of a Creative Support for Individuals grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. That same year, his song “Waves” was featured by MPR News as the Song of the Day. He has been active in and around Minnesota and abroad for over 20 years, and he continues to work at his home studio in the village of Grand Portage on the shores of Lake Superior.
Lake Superior — and, specifically, the village of Grand Portage — is yet another thru-line connecting this father-son duo and their diverse bodies of work. Though George’s art took on numerous shapes and styles throughout his life, he is especially known for his landscape and horizon paintings.
“How [did] he say it?” Briand wondered aloud toward the end of his Q&A, stretching his arm into the space around him. For George, Briand explained, the horizon paintings weren’t just about going to the horizon, but beyond it. “Beyond the horizon is the unknown.”