More than painting pretty colours or placing a random design on canvas, Tobago-born artist Wilcox Morris intended to make a statement, to express his philosophy, and to “provoke some thought that one should not be complacent at any point in life you may be,” he once said.
After a lifetime of evoking emotion through his paintbrush and guiding others to explore their inner creativity, the 72-year-old T&T native passed away quietly on July 11 in Clover, South Carolina. He was in the company of his family and in the primary care of his beloved wife, Diane Phillips-Morris. Born September 10, 1948, Wilcox was the fourth of ten children of Myrtle Bascombe Morris and the late Victor Morris. As a boy, he was mesmerised by colourful religious art books around the house. At the age of 9, while attending elementary school in Pembroke, Tobago, he won a special exhibition prize for a charcoal drawing depicting “The Old Woman and the Crab.”
His love for art continued to flourish through Scarborough Secondary School, and in 1968 he moved to New York City, exhibiting in the legendary Greenwich Village.
He enrolled in Howard University’s Department of Fine Arts the following year, studying under master artist Lois Mailou Jones, and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in art.
After graduation, he enlisted in the United States Army as a medic stationed in Germany. He would later earn a master’s degree in business administration and pursue doctoral work at Morgan State University in psychology. As former director of the National Fine Arts Centre and co-founder of the Art Committee of Tobago, in the 1980s he organised two international art conventions, Art ’84 Tobago and Art ’88 Tobago. In the 2000s, he returned to give back to his home by helping revitalise the art scene and develop a younger generation of artists.
The vibrant African-Caribbean folklore and folklife, Anansi stories, the tradition of masquerading, steelpan, Carnival, and the occasional politics of his home often found their way into his artwork.
Paintings such as “Cry Freedom,” in recognition of Haiti and the controversial “Surrender,” depicting the aftermath of a coup in T&T, are among his most popular work.
His legacy includes a body of work across the globe, from the United States, to Europe, and the wider Caribbean region, with exhibitions in DC, Maryland, California, Colorado, Martinique, France, Germany, Barbados, Philadelphia, and New York.
His community involvement includes organisations such as Pan Masters Steel Orchestra, TransAfrica, DC Caribbean Carnival Inc, the Institute of Caribbean Studies, the T&T Working Women’s Committee, and the Tobago Visual Arts Association, just to name a few. Morris’ art has reached the White House, the homes of heads of state, to banks, hotels, churches, political and non-profit organisations, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organisation of American States, and the Tobago House of Assembly and Shaw Park Complex.
His recognition includes reviews by CaribNation TV, Osiris Productions, the Caribbean Sun, the Trinidad Express, the T&T Guardian, Caribbean Pride magazine, the Washington Post, Washington Times, Heidelberger Tageblatt, the International Review of African-American Art, among other publications.
Of the many titles he held throughout his life—graphic artist, news reporter, cartoonist, steelband founder, carnival band leader, non-profit organiser—that of family man was one he treasured most and he was committed to helping those close to him succeed, and to using his talents to help advance society.
He is survived by his wife of ten years, Dianne Phillps-Morris; mother, Myrtle; four children Ayesha, Anise (Chris), Candace and Bryan; three grandchildren, Mensah, Calista, and Lillian; and siblings Lunsford, Findley, Rawlston, Garfield, Lowell, Victorine, Beverly, and Myrlin.
He was preceded in death by his father, Victor, and brothers, Clifton and Julian Morris.
A service to celebrate the life of Wilcox Morris will be held at 2 pm on Saturday at the Myers Park United Methodist Church, 1501 Queen’s Road, Charlotte.
A visitation with the family is scheduled for 1 pm. Attendees are encouraged to incorporate the colour blue in their wardrobe in honour of his favourite colour and are reminded to wear a face mask for safety.
The memorial will also be available on livestream via https://livestream.com/mpumc/funeral
Arrangements are by Kenneth W Poe Funeral & Cremation Service. Tributes, images of his art, and written sentiments can be emailed to [email protected]
Internment of his ashes is planned for a later date at the Scarborough Methodist Cemetery in Tobago.