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Birmingham artist with iconic works throughout the city
Does Birmingham have an art scene? I met a talented and very successful local artist who has been creating art here for many years. Brad Morton’s work exemplifies Birmingham’s industrial past, yet is organic and full of movement and life.
You might have seen Brad Morton’s sculptures around the city or even around the country. Meet the man who makes giant metal birds soar through the air.
Birmingham is the medical capital of the state. There are impressive local tech start-ups emerging. Birmingham has an established culinary scene that’s getting national attention. There is a great craft brewery presence and cool startups making the news.
Birmingham also makes art!
Brad Morton, a sculptor, has been forging and creating “under the radar” in Birmingham’s Southside since 1984. Morton has art installations throughout the south .
His sculptures are at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham. Morton shows pieces in art galleries across the country: Santé Fe, Birmingham, Washington D.C., Alexandria, VA, and many more.
I arrived at his studio on 1st Ave South, on a dark rainy day that somehow enhanced the whole industrial vibe of the place. Morton moved here years ago, before Southside was one of the hip, trendy neighborhoods. Back then it was still warehouses, factories and abandoned old buildings.
Brad was open and welcoming, walking me around his factory-like space, furnished with kilns, wood, sheets of metal and tools everywhere.
What led Brad Morton to become an artist?
“I loved it as a child, drawing and making things. Then after high school and going to Auburn for a few semesters I decided to hit the road to California. Afterwards I moved to Birmingham and took a sculpting art elective and was hooked.” Brad Morton
Brad Morton studied Industrial Design at Auburn University from 1969 -1972 , then he came to Birmingham to become an art major, earning his degree from UAB. He earned his MFA in sculpture from the University of Georgia in 1981. After finishing graduate school he and his wife moved to South Alabama, but he quickly found his way back to Birmingham and has been based here ever since.
“I feel like I have traveled full-circle from the time I first became interested in sculpture. I thought I had wasted so much time because of the period I was in Industrial Design, but I began to realize it was the best foundation I could have for building a foundry, setting up my studio, and engineering the large outdoor pieces.” Brad Morton
In the past eight years Birmingham has undergone a rebirth both culturally and from a business development standpoint. I was curious how Morton sees these changes affecting the art scene. Brad shared his thoughts:
“It’s grown with more people, with Birmingham going through this resurgence downtown where people want to come and live here again. There’ve been galleries opening up everywhere and the stuff going on at Sloss is going very strong.” Brad Morton.
Over the years he has installed over a dozen pieces in Birmingham. See his work outside St. Vincent’s, UAB and at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
His preferred materials are bronze, steel and stainless steel. Many forms are organic, evoking nature and the human form, but some definitely harken back to his background in industrial design, with flat plains and sleek finishes.
Morton collaborated with other artists on an installation in Birmingham that a million people a year pass under and probably gaze up at in wonder. The Freedom Sculpture is the central focal point of the UAB Hospital North Pavilion concourse, covering an area 25 feet square and descending 35 vertical feet from the 4th story atrium skylight. A flock of 100 glass and metal birds “fly” permanently through the lobby atrium.
Morton is currently working on a sculpture that will find its home in the plaza between Children’s Hospital and Children’s Harbor On 6th Ave. The piece will be an abstract representation of a family sitting together on a bench. He plans to complete the work by June.
Morton explained his inspiration often comes from his interests in architecture and the human form. As we talked, the subject of school curriculum came up. I was curious how Brad feels about the huge emphasis on technology, rather than the fine arts.
Art requires patience and the human hand
He fears that his type of art, created by sensitive hands, slowly and with great thought and hard work might someday disappear, as more and more people would rather design on a computer and then have the piece built by a 3D printer.
Art requires problem solving and higher level thinking, along with creativity. All traits and skills we need to be innovative in the future.
“In today’s world where everyone wants immediate gratification and don’t want to get their hands dirty, this could happen.” Brad Morton.
I asked Brad if he had advice for young artists who hope to make a career with their art.
“To be an artist you have to be self-motivated and dedicated. No one can really help you other than fellow artists and that doesn’t always happen. If you want to be a self-sufficient artist you have to be motivated to get up and do it every single day.” Brad Morton.
Try to spot some of Brad Morton’s amazing works of art around this city. If you are on the southside of Birmingham, you might stumble upon his sculpture garden.