“I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become” – says George Anthony Morton in his latest award-winning documentary that will be premiered on November 16 on HBO. The 39-year-old Atlanta artist is one of the most prominent rising stars in the world of classical art. As a Black man with a troubled family history, Morton received formal art education only in his 30’s, but has already made multiple accomplishments and rediscovered African elements in an artwork otherwise dominated by Europeans for centuries.
According to the official website of the artist, George Anthony Morton was born in September 1983 in Kansas City, Missouri. Like many others, his southern black family was in shambles thanks to decades of systemic marginalization by society. Morton himself was born to a 15-year-old mother, as the first of her 11 children. His mother and many of his siblings repeatedly faced jail time during his childhood, which prevented him from receiving any advanced formal education or vocational training. At 19, Morton was eventually caught and prosecuted as a low-level drug dealer under the federal law, receiving a staggering sentence of 11 years for his non-violent act.
However, Morton was gifted with one exceptional talent from childhood: His painting yet unhoned drawing and painting skills were truly remarkable. He had once before received a bag of paints from a security guard in a juvenile facility, but he really took to art with full-time passion in the federal Penitentiary where he spent his entire 20’s, a place he now describes as his ‘monastery’.
Upon release, Morton decided to apply to the U.S. branch of the prestigious Florence Academy of Art, which only accepted its first seven students that year. Morton gave his heart and soul to the Academy, becoming – in his own words – “the proudest graduate on Planet Earth”. He was also the first African American to do so. During his relatively brief study period, Morton also spent some time traveling across the world, learning classical-realist style from the Dutch Old Masters, and roaming across Egypt in search of late-medieval classical art depicting Black bodies with dignity not found in later European works.
During his time at the Florence Academy of Art, George Morton won the Best Figure Drawing award in 2015 and the Best Portrait Drawing in 2016. His pioneering Africanesque artwork is coveted by classical art collectors and featured in galleries throughout the world. Morton is now based in Atlanta, Georgia, where he has founded the city’s first classical art studio by the name of Atelier South.
In 2017, the Dutch filmmaker Rosa Ruth Boesten discovered Morton via a New York Times profile and was awe-struck by the amazing untold story of the young American artist. The two were soon in contact, and eventually produced the upcoming documentary “Master of Light”. The film has already won multiple awards at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival and 2022 San Francisco International Film Festival. The documentary vividly depicts the epic struggle of the artist as he overcomes childhood trauma, family drama, crime and racial adversity to reach the elevated position that he has so deservingly earned within less than a decade of release from his lengthy prison sentence.