“I make art out of necessity. No stories, no messages.”
Former Fine Arts Department chair and teacher Robert Moorhead’s exhibit, “Visions and Transitions”, was installed in the Von Auersperg Gallery on November 5th and will be accessible to students until December 18th. Mr. Moorhead arranged and hung all of his paintings himself, displaying them linearly across the four walls of the gallery and allowing visitors to follow his chronological progression of paintings.
In “Visions and Transitions”, Mr. Moorhead consolidated works from a 40 year time period spanning from 1971 to 2021, which makes this exhibit stand out from any of his past installations. Dean of Studies Lydia Hemphill observed that, “his newer work is quite different – both in terms of palette, composition and motifs incorporated.”
Another unique aspect of the exhibit is Mr. Moorhead’s incorporation of poetry in multiple languages. He utilized lines of Arabic, French, English, and German. The French and English prose are from the work of his wife, Andrea Moorhead. Mrs. Moorhead taught French at the academy for 37 years and continues to write poetry.
With “Visions and Transitions”, Mr. Moorhead also took the opportunity to share his work with the Deerfield community that he otherwise would not have displayed. Since he believes that “a current student should not be influenced by her or his teacher’s work,” Mr. Moorhead displayed very few of his works during his time teaching at the school.
In regards to his artistic process, Mr. Moorhead explained that, “‘out of necessity’ refers to the fact that I really do not feel right if I don’t paint or draw every few days.” He continued, “it is essential to my being or spirit to be making marks otherwise something seems to be ‘missing’ in my life.”
Mr. Moorhead originally planned to display his work at Deerfield last year, but was unable to do so at the time. Therefore, Ms. Hemphill and Mrs. Taylor, who play key roles in curating works for the Von Auersperg Gallery, were excited to get “Visions and Transitions” on campus this year. Mr. Moorhead was also able to continue working on the exhibit and add even more to his intricate pieces since last year.
In describing the overarching goal of the Von Auersperg Gallery, Ms. Hemphill shared, “Mrs. Taylor and I like to think about a diversity of media and artists.” She continued, “We really want to expose the community—Deerfield students in particular—to a wide variety of art over [their time here].”
Students in the Topics Tutorial Studio Art course had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Moorhead on Monday, November 8th. Julia Hioe ‘22 found it helpful to hear about Mr. Moorhead’s creative process in particular, as he often doesn’t have a plan when starting a piece. She said, “It was reassuring to hear that being uncomfortable and not knowing how a piece will end up is normal and part of the process.”
During his 38 years living and teaching at Deerfield, Mr. Moorhead served as Chair of the Fine Arts Department and taught Architecture, 3-D Design, 2-D Design, Calligraphy, and Video. He also incorporated varying spring-term electives ranging from a course on gallery installations to one focusing on multimedia art. Recalling his time as department chair, Mr. Moorhead said, “I worked hard to nurture each section of our department so that music, drama, dance, and visual arts could develop their programs in a consistent manner.” Ms. Hemphill described Mr. Moorhead as “a great, supportive colleague over the years.”
Over his time at the school, Mr. Moorhead also kept in mind the simple yet significant goal of making “the arts an essential part of Deerfield life.” After retiring along with Mrs. Moorhead in 2014, Mr. Moorhead hopes the arts department will continue pursuing this ideal.
Interestingly, one of Mr. Moorhead’s favorite times at Deerfield was the year the visual arts department had to relocate to the Deerfield Elementary School while the Hess Center was being renovated. He said, “We had our own world, our own art school.” This encouraged rich collaboration and students and teachers benefited from the change in environment.
Outside of the current Von Auersperg Gallery exhibit, Mr. and Mrs. Moorhead collaborate often in their art. In 1997, they published Deerfield: 1797-1997—a book offering a pictorial history of the academy. The couple has also been publishing Osiris, an international poetry journal, since 1972. They have been publishing two issues of the journal each year for nearly 50 years now. Issues include prose in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and German. The journal often features graphics from Mr. Moorhead and poetry from Mrs. Moorhead.
Mr. Moorhead offers the following advice for developing artists at Deerfield: “keep working, keep experimenting, trust your instinct, and don’t let the critics get you down!”