Hannah King · November 19, 2012
The Tucson House at Southern Virginia University has a unique artistic history—including serving as the training ground of Gregory Mortenson (’01), named one of 25 “Artists of Tomorrow” by American Artist magazine.
“I enjoyed that the art studio [at Southern Virginia] had at one time been the studio of Cy Twombly, who actually came and visited with me,” said Mortenson. “He gave me a critique on my work, which was exciting.”
One of Mortenson’s self-portraits is featured on the cover of American Artist this month. The issue contains the final installment of a three-part series that Mortenson wrote on technique for painting self-portraits.
“Mortenson is one of the most accomplished in a new generation of painters who have embraced the rigors of training in the atelier tradition,” said an American Artist contributor in a special edition of the magazine titled “75 Greatest Artists of All Time.” “[Mortenson has] impeccable classical technique that allows him to present exquisitely turned form and tonal rendering of great subtlety. This prowess is most evident in his portraiture, where the precision of description and delicate paint handling give a quite breath-taking sense of presence to the subject.”
Mortenson majored in art at Southern Virginia, and after graduating, went on to spend two years studying classical painting in an apprenticeship with Patrick Devonas and William Whitaker, and then completed the four-year curriculum at the Grand Central Academy of Art in New York—where he studied under Jacob Collins. Mortenson said that Southern Virginia was a “stepping stone” to his other artistic pursuits and helped him to “develop a good work ethic.”
“As a liberal arts school, it gave me some freedom to explore a lot of different things,” said Mortenson. “I minored in creative writing, which I don’t know if I would have done at a different school. I found there was a wide variety of good teachers and subjects to study.”
Mortenson said that he especially appreciated the teaching of Barbara Crawford, professor of art at the university, and that she was “very influential” and her passion for art was “infectious.”
“Greg [Mortenson] was completely focused on his art,” said Crawford. “He was very special. He shows his sensitivity to his subject, it’s evident in his paintings. To see that his commitment has paid off is exciting, and I think Greg is one who will always be striving for growth, for learning and moving forward. He is at a place where a lot of people would be comfortable stopping, but he won’t. My feeling is that he will keep improving. The quest is always out there for Greg.”
Mortenson traveled to Beijing last month to participate in an exhibit of American realism sponsored by the America China Oil Painting Artists League. The China museum tour opened at the Beijing World Art Museum, and also traveled to many other museums in the region.
“Traveling—going to Europe, China and other countries—has been exciting,” said Mortenson. “I’ve also been able to study with some artists that I really admired and to involve myself in the classical realism art scene in New York.”
In addition to developing his own technique, Mortenson instructs at the Grand Central Academy of Art, and also teaches summer workshops in a variety of locations.
“I like to see the students progress,” he said. “I have a passion for art and I like to work with other people who are equally passionate and to see that fire catch on as they get excited about what they’re doing and progress.”