"Gregory Mortenson (b. 1976) is one of the most accomplished in a new generation of painters who have embraced the rigors of training in the atelier tradition. After completing his undergraduate studies at Southern Virginia University, in Buena Vista, he spent two years studying classical painting with Patrick Devonas and William Whitaker. He then moved to New York City, where he completed the four-year curriculum at the Grand Central Academy of Art under Jacob Collins, following it up with two more years of training in Collins' private studio. Mortenson emerged from this lengthy apprenticeship with an impeccable classical technique that allows him to present exquisitely turned form and tonal rendering of great subtlety. This prowess is most evident in his portraiture, where the precision of description and delicate paint handling give a quite breathtaking sense of presence to the subject."
-American Artist Magazine
After the Haitian earthquake of 2010, a friend of mine quit his job as a middle school teacher and moved to Haiti to see what he could do to help. He was funded by a philanthropist that basically said, "Take this money and see what good you can do." My friend came across an orphanage that had been relocated into the countryside from Port Au Prince. Their building had crumbled in the city and they found themselves living in a cow pasture with 30 children in a tent. My friend found them and knew this was the group he could help the most. He bought them the field they were living on and began building housing and schools for them to use.
It was then that I went to Haiti with my wife and a group of friends that I grew up with, we helped with the building of the schools and some of my tech-savvy friends spearheaded an online fundraiser.
I remember arriving in Haiti and seeing the devastation of the earthquake everywhere. So many people had lost their homes and loved ones. There was mass depression everywhere. It was a two-hour drive from Port Au Prince to the orphanage. The whole way I was imagining how much worse the atmosphere of the orphanage must be to the images I saw as I drove there. To my surprise, their orphanage was a haven of hope away from the devastation everywhere else. The grounds were filled with laughter and even though these children had lost their birth families, they had made a much larger family. It was that very triumph of the human spirit that I wanted to capture in my paintings.
Shortly thereafter the funding for the program was pulled and my friend returned from Haiti after living there over a year. The orphanage was taken over by another organization and is doing very well. I've been in contact with them about returning and teaching some art classes. I like the idea of doing portraits of all the children that I painted before, but five years removed from the earthquake.
I returned to Haiti two summers ago to teach art classes for another school. It's a school cofounded by another of my friends. He is a neurologist and returns every few years to do humanitarian work and train the Haitian doctors. He cofounded a school there with some educators. I taught art classes with a group that he had invited. I am also in talks with him about doing a mural with his students.
ARTWORK: Gregory Mortenson
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