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Keith Morrison

Also Known as: Keith Anthony Morrison

Linstead, Jamaica 1942

Active in:

  • Maryland
  • Washington, District of Columbia


Artist, teacher, critic, and curator, Keith Morrison is also a philosophical optimist. Beyond the ideological tensions between African and European values that he and others wrestle with, Morrison anticipates a genuine world culture in the twenty-first century.

In Zombie Jamboree [SAAM, 1990.76], a super-natural ritual reflects the voodoun religion's blend of African and Christian beliefs and ceremonies as it tests the very nature of life and death.

As phantasmagorical as Zombie Jamboree appears, it is a highly structured work in which the syncopation of color, shadow, line, and mass is as important as its imagery derived from diverse sources. Jamaican-born Morrison has conjured his memories of elderly people telling African stories about evil spirits emerging from ponds at dusk, while also recalling the drowning of a close family friend. Inspirational also was Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Benjamin Britten's opera, The Turn of the Screw, in which ghosts dance across a pond. From this ambitious melange of references emerges a forceful synthesis of visual narrative and cultural metaphor.

Lynda Roscoe Hartigan African-American Art: 19th and 20th-Century Selections (brochure. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art)

Additional Biographies

Luce Artist Biography

Keith Morrison was born in Jamaica and moved to the United States to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. As a student, he was influenced by the work of abstract expressionist artists such as Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. By 1975, however, Morrison abandoned abstract work in favor of figural paintings inspired by African and Caribbean culture. During this time his paintings often depicted brightly colored tropical scenes with a variety of real and imagined creatures. He drew his subjects from memories of childhood stories, superstitions, and ceremonies from his Afro-Caribbean background. More recently Morrison's paintings express his investigations into the histories of art, music, and slavery. His paintings can be complex studies of different ethnographic cultures and the visual signs shared between them. Morrison is an art critic, educator, and curator, as well as an artist, and currently serves as dean of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia. (Perry, Free within Ourselves: African-American Artists in the Collection of the National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art in association with Pomegranate, 1992)