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Local Color

Michael Morgulis captures an increasingly rare sight: free anything.

Photography by Michael Morgulis at Queen City Gallery

Remember free air? A stark image of an auto shop features red signage over an air pump stationed at a blue and yellow wall. The crisp image tells one small story. Before coin-operated air pumps, garages would happily announce “free air” as a generous bonus given to their customers.

Michael Morgulis captured this moment. More than just documentation, his artful images also suggest a narrative. In this case, we are reminded that there was once a time when everything was not a commodity. A stack of small prints of this photo were available to guests (free) at the intimate Queen City Gallery. Friends and fans stopped by on the sunny winter afternoon to greet the artist and enjoy refreshments while pondering the storied prints. I am reminded of flash fiction, haiku poems, short films, and the small moments we all experience each day. An old advertising slogan taken from a Chinese proverb reminded us that “One picture is worth a thousand words.” More and more, the universal world communication style is trading the complication of language for pictures and symbols. Visual art has always operated in this territory.

Primarily a printmaker and graphic designer, Morgulis studied with Milton Glaser and has honed his own visual language in a body of silkscreen posters, prints, and t-shirts of scenes and images related to Buffalo. Some may remember his Local Color Gallery on Elmwood, but these days Morgulis is found working behind the desk at his Hertel Avenue shop, New Buffalo Graphics. His studio is in full view. Interesting books and art journals are strewn about. Jazz is likely playing in the background. Visitors may be greeted by Kiki, his companion dog and frequent subject. You will notice the rather large professional printer that lends a high-quality look to his signed, archival inkjet prints. He will likely offer you a piece of candy from the bowl by the register.

Many visual artists take photographs as a dimension of their creative work. “But I’m not a photographer,” they will say. Richard Prince refers to it as “practicing without a license.” Seeing the world through a lens defines a personal point of view. An avid movie buff, Morgulis remarks, “I sometimes see the world in front of my camera as a still scene from the movie of my life.” Along with his printmaking work, he has always made images with a camera and shoots what he sees during his daily travels around North Buffalo, Elmwood, and Delaware Park. Buildings, bicycles, and dogs come up often in the artist’s work. Titles such as Fancy Little Dogs on Leashes elaborate on the story. Gauzy cloth drapes sunlit windows in Morning Window at Sweetness 7. He finds “urban folk art” in an eclectic corner storefront, a diner counter, mannequins, and layered views through reflective glass. We once referred to everyday photographs as snapshots (usually taken with a Kodak). Today, almost everyone has ventured into a bit of photography with their phone pics and easy editing tools. Incorporating images into our online text is almost a necessity. Yet there is a tradition of documentary and narrative photography that goes beyond the snap. I think of Sylvia Plachy, Mary Ellen Mark, Annie Leibovitz, and more. Morgulis melds together these approaches in his process-oriented art. He utilizes the digital print process to achieve painterly effects in his photographs, as evidenced in vivid color, detail, and texture. Finding authentic expression in this region is only part of the story. Buffalo is the container—the narrative is infused in the objects, arrangements, and ambiance of situations (moments). Morgulis does this with beauty and humor. Local Color Editions is the brand name for his poetic print series, book covers, and hand-bound books. Local color is what he does best. In addition to the dozen-plus framed and matted prints on display, there are numerous unframed photographs available to look through. My personal favorite is one of three large cloths blowing in the breeze on a backyard clothes line—ordinary yet magical.

Queen City Gallery is nestled inside the Market Arcade downtown on Main Street. Morgulis’s show, titled Shorts, will remain on view through April 3. The gallery is open most afternoons, Tuesday through Friday.

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