Doug Morton, painter and York administrator, dies

Well-known Canadian abstract artist and former York University administrator Doug Morton has died in Victoria, BC, at 77. Morton played a significant role in the York landscape during the 1970s and was director of York’s graduate program in the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Born in 1926 in Winnipeg, Morton initially pursued commercial art. He studied in Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Paris and London before becoming the curator of the Calgary Allied Arts Centre. In 1967, Morton joined the University of Saskatchewan’s Regina campus as director of visual arts.

In 1969, Morton came to York University’s Visual Arts Program. For the next 11 years, Morton held prominent positions in the program. He was an associate professor of art in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Chair of the Visual Arts Program and from 1973 to 1976, the associate dean and director of the MFA program.

While a talented arts administrator, Morton was first and foremost dedicated to his painting, recalled his longtime friend, Canadian artist and York Professor Emeritus of Visual Arts Ron Bloore. Morton and Bloore taught together while at York and shared studio space in Stong House. (Examples of Morton’s work are shown left and below.)

Bloore, Morton and fellow artists Ken Lochhead, Art McKay and Ted Godwin were members of The Regina Five, a group of five painters who enjoyed national attention and critical acclaim in the 1960s. The group exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada in the show titled “Five Painters from Regina”.

“He was the only one of The Regina Five who was a ‘number’ guy,” chuckled Bloore. “While he was a good administrator and a great number cruncher, he was above everything else a painter. I always felt that he did not get the public recognition he should have received as an artist, because he was the best of us [The Regina Five]. He maintained his faith and dedication to non-figurative painting throughout his life.”

Joyce Zemans, the director of the MBA Program in Arts & Media Administration in York’s Schulich School of Business, was a close friend to Morton. “He made an enormous contribution to Canadian art as an artist, teacher and as an administrator,” said Zemans. “He was dearly loved by everyone who knew him and he will be missed.”

While at York, Morton taught painting during the summer months at the Banff School of Fine Arts. He left York in 1980 to become the dean of fine arts at the University of Victoria, a position he kept until 1985. He was president of the Alberta College of Art from 1985 to 1987 and returned to the University of Victoria where he chaired the visual arts program until his retirement in 1991.

During his retirement, said Bloore, Morton continued to paint with a passion until the day he died. Morton remained active in the Victoria arts community and adjudicated many exhibits.

Photograph of Doug Morton courtesy of Ron Bloore.