People don’t typically see psychedelic, post-graffiti art exhibits in mainstream private galleries; however Tony Morton is testing the waters to challenge what Oklahomans think about art.
Morton is the gallery director for what has been dubbed one of the top five galleries in the city, according to The Oklahoman Readers’ Choice Awards. Despite that, he thinks of himself as an educator, first and foremost. Oklahoma is on the cusp of an arts renaissance and Morton is thankful for the opportunity to help usher it in.
“Private galleries have to really try and conform themselves and think a lot about their audience and what their audience wants to see,” he said. “I want to give them what they want to see but I also want to show them that there are other things they can appreciate.”
Paseo Originals Art Gallery has the largest space along Paseo Drive and is owned by longtime Paseo patrons Roy and Karen Orr. Each month, roughly 250 pieces of art ranging from paintings to sculptures to furniture pieces go in and out.
As the art curator, it is Morton’s responsibility to decide what resident artist pieces to display and what “outsider” artists he wants to take a chance on. He specifically looks for progressive or risky types of art that the majority of Oklahomans have yet to experience.
“When I say risky, I have to wonder if the mainstream is going to come in here and be totally turned off by it,” he said.
Artists that expose the mundane, the sad, and the disturbing side of life don’t intimidate Morton; he embraces them.
“Art forces you to dig deeper,” he said.
With avid art collectors as parents; Morton’s childhood from birth from to age 8 was either spent on an advertising drafting table or a museum floor. Throughout his adolescence he lived in 36 states and absorbed many different cultures. He is also now married to Oklahoma artist, Stacey Miller.
The art scene suits him well because he can surround himself with what he knew growing up; even though he is in Oklahoma City.
“I love being around artists because they are the most eccentric type of people that the planet has to offer,” he said.
Morton can talk about anything art for hours upon hours with the same excitement that he began with. His hope is that one day in the not-so-distant future, all Oklahomans will open their minds to appreciating art in all its forms.
“I find that Oklahoma is extremely receptive to new things; that goes across all generations; from the twenty-something’s to the ninety-something’s,” he said. “We will hit our art renaissance here when people walk in and they can look at something … and they don’t address it as being different or weird, they address it as evolved.”
The general reaction to the psychedelic, post-graffiti art exhibit in April was super positive, Morton said. The exhibit, titled “Pulse” exposed the underground urban art movement in Oklahoma City. The gallery featured seven area artists; Tanner Frady, Jason Pawley, Cassie Stover, Sean Vali, Rick Sinnett, Josh Heilaman and Clint Stone. The exhibit was titled “Pulse” because these artists of the underground are the heartbeat of the city.
“A lot of people think this scene isn’t really for them, but the truth is the underground has something for all of us,” he said.