Portrait of an artist: Ken Morris

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Celeste Lewis

Taking cues from his late chum Henry Faulkner, Ken Morris approaches each day as if it were a blank canvas.

Ken Morris is many things: father, grandfather, painter and storyteller, to name a few. He’s also a traveling man. With the keen eye of a natural born observer of life, landscape and human nature, Morris has spent a lifetime driving around the country, painting, meeting interesting people and collecting memories. Many of the places and people he has encountered have ended up in his playful and colorful paintings.

Having long ago set up the poles of his life to be Lexington and Key West, Morris travels between the two locations and treasures them both as “home.”He grew up in Lexington and started school at Millersburg Military Institute in the first grade, and he chuckles remembering his first foray into art.

“I got in trouble for drawing,” he recalled. “We were in military school, so we were supposed to be focused and concentrate on our work and only our work.”

Fortunately, he wasn’t permanently dissuaded from practicing his art, which has become one of the most defining aspects of his life.

“I paint pretty much all the time these days,” Morris said.

Morris counts painter Marc Chagall as a major influence, and closer to home, the work of the late Kentucky artist Henry Faulkner. As a young man, Morris met Faulkner and was impressed with his work and his eccentric life. He found himself living as neighbors with Faulkner in Lexington on a couple of occasions; the two became friends, and Morris often did errands with Faulkner, who also taught Morris a great deal about the painting process and materials. Morris recalls being asked to drive Faulkner to Florida along with his favorite goat, Alice, just one of many stories of his experiences with the unique artist.

Another of Morris’ brushes with greatness occurred as a young man in the late 1950s while traveling with his brother. The brothers approached a rural store in Idaho and were astonished when a mountain lion stood up from where it was lying on the porch. Ken went reeling backward, terrified. The men who were gathered at the store laughed and assured him the animal was on a tether and not likely to attack. As Morris regained his composure, he and his brother realized that one of the men was author Ernest Hemingway.

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