It was only seven years ago that Port Clyde artist Jon Mort discovered his true voice as a storyteller through his detailed renderings of found objects in colored pencil. With these objects, he creates a narrative that reflects his fascination with the natural order of the universe and the connectedness of all things. “I’m a person who has a deep hunger for order and the world at large, and nothing is more important than the coeval force to be connected.”
Born and raised near Ashton, Md., as a child Mort engaged in making art in the home studio of his father, noted artist Greg Mort, and was soon producing work that found its way into the hands of collectors. This was the first step on his path to becoming a professional artist. “I always carried a strong personal association with the idea that I was a creative person,” he explains, “but outside forces suggested the term ‘artist’ before it became a label I thought about applying to myself.” After high school, Mort enrolled in Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in studio art with a minor in classical archeology and ancient history.
In 2005, after graduation from F&M, Mort engaged in summer studies in Tuscany, Italy, where he joined an archaeological dig. While onsite, he was tutored by an illustrator from the British Museum of History who was working with a large array of precision measuring and transcribing tools. This left an enormous impression on Mort, who was searching for exactitude and refinement in his style.
“The people who have shaped my life are the teachers,” says Mort. These people also include a classics professor who he says taught him the importance of “fearlessness” and, more importantly, his parents, Nadine and Greg, who gave him the courage and confidence to pursue his heartfelt passion for art. Additionally, Mort’s mother, especially, encouraged him to pursue a diversity of experience rather than specializing in any one field too early on. According to Mort, “This shaped my character far more than any individual professional goal.”
Continuing his education, Mort earned a Master’s degree in architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2009, where he learned the importance of rigor, simplicity—and solitude. Mort’s graduate thesis was based upon the question, “What is an architecture of solitude?” To answer that question, he returned to his childhood summer cottage in Martinsville, which was first rented by his parents when he was only five weeks old. From his bedroom window upstairs, the young Mort could view an island in Spruce Cove, informally known as “Grandaddy’s Island.” Contemplating it, he says he realized that “solitude is paramount, the root of all reflection and creativity, the source of all human endeavor.”
After graduate school, Mort began a career as a full-time professional artist, incorporating into his work all the influences, insights and skills that he had acquired along the way. Among his earliest works, Mort returned to the influence of his studies in classics to create graphite drawings of fantastical neo-mythological figures for which his friends would pose. Eventually, Mort turned to the medium of Prismacolor pencils, a natural outgrowth of his architectural training. He also began to explore a new theme based on the “connectiveness” of all things in the universe. Mort collects objects like old shells, discarded small bottles, foreign coins, small bound books with ornate bindings, among many things, to serve as his models. As he explains it, these objects are “a story crying out to be told.” Finding connections between several objects, Mort carefully assembles them within the boundaries of a thoughtfully balanced composition that invites viewers to explore and discover their own personal “connectiveness” to the objects.
During the summers, Mort resides in Port Clyde and the rest of the year in Washington, D.C. “It’s a privilege to share the Maine coast and there are few places where the forces that shape the natural world intersect to form such beautiful results,” he reflects. He says he feels grateful to spend summers on the St. George peninsula and hopes to continue creating work that he cares about. When asked about his future, Mort explains that he loves the uncertainty of what may come next in his life.
Presently, Mort is represented by Massoni Art Gallery in Chestertown, Md., and Sommerville Manning Gallery in Greenville, Del. His joint summer open studio with his father is scheduled for August 5-6 from 10am to 5pm at the Fieldstone Castle in Port Clyde. Mort’s exhibition for this event, entitled “Maine Treasures,” is his reflection on the granular beauty of this area and how beautiful it is. More of Mort’s work may be viewed on his website: www.jonmortstudio.com. —Katharine A. Cartwright
PHOTOS: Top, Jon Mort; bottom, Katharine Cartwright