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Morris Bear Squire is an individual who has traversed many different worlds, both literally and figuratively, during his lifetime. He is the rare person who has excelled in the artistic arena, as well as in the academic and professional communities. He is not only a highly skilled and internationally recognized artist, but a pioneer in Developmental Child Psychology. Squire has spent considerable time abroad while developing his professional career, and his extensive traveling has had a major influence on his unique artwork.

In the early 1920's, Squire was born on a kitchen table in a basement on Jackson Blvd., in the heart of Chicago's old West Side. He was the first child of immigrants who survived internment camps in Baku, Azerbaijan, where many undesirables (e.g. Jews and Asians) were detained. Squire was conceived while his parents were imprisoned, and after being rescued from the camps they immigrated to "the promising land of golden opportunities" along with many other European refugees. From these harsh beginnings, a versatile artist emerged decades later.

When he was 18, Squire was drafted into the United States Air Force and served for three years in the Air Corps in the South Pacific theater. He was stationed in Guam, Saipan and Iwo Jima, and his experiences there left an indelible mark in his life. After spending some time in Japan after the end of WW2, his interest in Asian traditions and culture flourished. Meeting an old woman in Guam who had the largest family on the island (15 children and 50 grandchildren) made a deep impression on him. It is interesting to note how significant and important family traditions were to become to him later in life as he developed as an artist.

Inspired by his mother and aunt, who had established a Jewish Orthodox nursing home when he was a teenager, Squire began working as a counselor for students while he was a psychology undergraduate at the University of Illinois after the war. Eventually he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and Biology. He then began to direct his attention specifically toward Child Psychology, eventually earning a Master's Degree at the University of Chicago.

As Squire started to develop his career as a health care professional, he also began honing his administrative and entrepreneurial skills. He started working in the real estate field and consciously tried to achieve a harmonious balance between social work and his growing commercial acumen. In 1958, he built Forest Psychiatric Hospital on the outskirts of Chicago and later established the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology, comprising four campuses in Chicago, Hawaii, Missouri and North Carolina. He owned this 180-bed hospital for over 40 years and it became one of the focal points of his professional life.

Over the course of his career in the mental health field Squire also founded a general hospital in Missouri in the early 1960s, established four day schools, three preschools, three independent living facilities, seven hospitals, the first methadone center in a private hospital, two insurance companies and Wonder Lake State Bank. While maintaining a productive pace in the commercial arena, Squire also lectured routinely on family and group therapy in over 30 countries. He also wrote two books on current psychiatric practices and administrative psychiatry, produced a weekly radio program broadcast weekly on 250 radio stations, and wrote a column, ("Focus on Mental Health") which was published in over 100 newspapers.

In addition to finding formidable success in his chosen field, Squire has consistently created and exhibited artwork throughout his life. In fact, his artwork has been the emotional core of his approach to all aspects of his life, and his artistic activity has informed and framed everything he has done, be it professional, commercial or personal. The wellspring of Squire's life is first and foremost artistic and creative.

Well over 30 years ago, Squire began to carve and paint stones late at night in an attempt to channel some of his surplus energy into something that had personal meaning. He started to paint small canvases in an impressionistic fashion and soon an earnest interest in the visual arts began to take shape. Being socially oriented and predisposed to working with other people, he formed an artists collective in the rural Midwest in 1978. He set up an elaborate lithography studio in Wonder Lake, Illinois and invited artists from all over the world to come and collaborate in making prints on paper. This was the beginning of Squire's love affair with handmade paper.

The artists participating in his lithography salon experimented widely with different materials, constructing various kinds of papers on which to print artwork. Inspired, Squire developed his own formula and technique for using cotton fiber. He made his source material from scratch and dyed the paper pulp before applying the colors by hand, much like a painter might use a brush loaded with oil paint. This material was thick and weighty and the end result was a true synthesis between painting and sculpture. His cotton fiber series, sometimes reaching over 8 by 4 feet and 1/2 inches in relief, could be seen as three-dimensional paintings because he enhanced the physical and tactile quality of the material by using color to contrast and highlight the contours.

Eager to try his hand at different materials and media, in 1958 Squire began exploring metal sculpture as a means of expressing his ideas. Often constructing pieces 9 feet in diameter, he would weld and bend different shapes together, painting the surfaces and sometimes bringing pieces into an auto body shop to have enamel finishes baked onto them. He also made ceramics during this period and taught himself watercolor, all in an effort to develop fluency in various materials and techniques.

Squire's central compositional technique is to establish a foreground, subject and background, producing a multi-layered effect that powerfully draws the viewer into the work. Since he usually concentrates on portraiture, either single figures or small groups, this manner of constructing the foundation of a painting is very effective in focusing attention on specific areas of the composition. Another of Squire's core compositional concerns is the use of perspective. He carefully structures his compositions to attract the viewer's eye toward the area of a painting that he feels is significant. Lines are sketched in, altered and shifted to produce the most dramatic effect possible.

Before producing his current lacquerware series 3 years ago, Squire was also deeply involved in photography, experimenting with creating a pastiche effect by combining different images. After completing his first substantial series of large oil canvases in the early 70s, Squire recognized the artistic possibilities in appropriating photographic images, along with generating his own, and contrasting them to convey specific ideas. For the lacquerware compositions, he began scanning and then manipulating them electronically in the computer by using complex graphic programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Corel Draw and Freehand. The resulting images were used as the guide and blueprint for his extensive ongoing lacquerware body of work.

While he was concerned with artistic techniques, the emotion behind his work is the most important element in his paintings. For example, his most recent body of work, the lacquerware paintings, contains several sub-themes focused around specific topics that are most meaningful to him. There are paintings of his family, close friends, children, scenes from Vietnam, the Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Parade, the circus, the Bible and visions of the Gothic period.

A unifying concept that runs through most of these series is the ideas of the "gold mask". In the gold mask paintings Squire draws upon his extensive knowledge and experience in psychology and psychiatry to share his ideas about how people express themselves to others. He uses a gold mask as a potent symbol of how a person illuminates their emotions from within - their attempt to present the outside world with a glowing version of themselves. In reality, people are complex creatures and they often meld their actual self-projection with their interpretation of others' perception of who they might be. People are never really seen in the manner in which they are consciously attempting to present themselves. The notion of the gold mask is a visual metaphor for the discrepancies between the real and the imagined.

Squire's inspiration for the gold mask series comes partly from Russian Icon paintings, with their focus on portraiture and liberal use of gold leaf. They usually portrayed well known fairy tale characters or important historical figures, honoring those who were held in high esteem. Another source of inspiration for this lacquerware series was the use of lacquer as a preservative in ancient Chinese temples. To protect temple artwork against humidity and harsh environmental conditions, artists use lacquer techniques to make the paintings more durable.

The intersection of dualities is a consistent theme in all of Morris Bear Squire's artwork. For instance, he often combines traditional lacquer techniques with computer-generated imagery, contrasting ancient and time-honored subjects with a contemporary pop sensibility. Perhaps most importantly, in his artwork he illustrates the interplay between the person he is portraying and his own projection of that person or who he perceives that person to be. This exciting dynamic between his subject and himself informs all of his artwork, infusing it with genuine meaning and heartfelt expression. Squire, in effect, gives himself away when he creates a portrait of a person's inner self, losing himself in the process and becoming one with his subject. The vital combination of Squire's powerful humanism and his highly developed artistic talent results in his artwork that is both innovative and life affirming.

sources: Morris Bear Squire, Bradford Edwards, and myself.

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