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Carolina Life: Italy inspires young painter

Inside Room 10 of the Museo Regionale, a little museum in Messina, Italy, Blake Morgan found himself alone with his sketchbook. In front of him hung one of Caravaggio’s last paintings, “The Raising of Lazarus.”

Moments earlier, security guards, on their way to lunch, had locked Morgan inside the room. Impressed by his sketches, they had asked the young artist to continue drawing.

“They basically shut this room off so I could sit there and draw all I wanted,” he said. “They ended up bringing me chocolate and tall beers so I ended up drawing for eight or nine hours.”

For the 27-year-old Columbia artist, the recent trip to Italy was a turning point in his career as a painter. Morgan saw some of Caravaggio’s greatest works, including “The Burial of Saint Lucy,” which encompasses 13 feet of the Church of Santa Lucia’s altarpiece.

“That’s what’s fascinating about going there,” Morgan said. “This painting is like a living thing. It’s not just something that’s tucked away in a museum. It’s still in the place that it was (originally intended to hang by the painter).”

Today, Morgan has moved away from small landscapes. He works on large canvas paintings, inspired by the larger-than-life masterpieces he saw in Italy. He works hard on grasping gestures and emotions.

“I would not be at this point with figure paintings without having gone to Italy,” he said. “When you stand in front of a great masterpiece, it’s not just a picture. It evokes smells, temperature of air and sensation of touch. To be in control of something like that opens up a whole world of expressive possibilities.”

Inside his studio, dabbing at his homemade earth tones, Morgan stands back and pauses. He gazes at his painting from many angles with the aid of two mirrors.

“The objective now is to be expressive,” he says. “I want to tell a meaningful story.”

Visit Morgan's studio, watch him paint and hear him describe his work: