01403 878 026
01903 892 899

Horsham Artist Morag Warrack

Morag Warrack

Published on 1st June 2018

We meet Horsham artist Morag Warrack, known for her colourful paintings of flora and fauna, following a successful exhibition at The Capitol…

I enjoyed drawing and painting as a child. When I was sent to my bedroom to do homework, I usually ended up doodling! But I didn’t want to pursue Art at college and my teacher said I was lucky to scrape a C grade at O’ Level, considering how little work I’d done. I became a school teacher instead, but my interest in art was reignited when a colleague told me about a life drawing class at Crawley College.

I had resigned from my job as I wanted to travel. I could only squeeze in a few sessions before I flew to Australia and it turned out to be a life changing experience. The art teacher was John Thompson, who is now my husband. We moved in together after I’d spent a few months travelling and he guided me through A’ level art. At the time, I just enjoyed experimenting with different materials and styles, whilst continuing my career in education.

I taught English at a Muslim secondary school in West Africa before returning to England and working at a primary school. I took a break to have children, but returned to art teaching at Millais School in Horsham, initially as a short-term replacement. I ended up staying for a decade until retiring five years ago. Since then, I’ve devoted far more time and energy to my passion for drawing and painting.

John was artist-in-residence at Wakehurst Place at the time, so I would join him there. The gardens were very peaceful and inspired us both. John then moved on to Nymans at Handcross and because the visitors loved scenes depicting landscape gardens and floral displays, that was generally what I painted. Gradually my style evolved, becoming bigger and occasionally more abstract. I also experimented with poetry and prose in some pieces, which I call my ‘philosophy paintings’. I like to hide words in the art to give them an added sense of peace and tranquility. 

My art often depicts wildlife. I have paintings of goldfinches, herons and robins as I like the challenge animals present. For three years, I've been art coordinator at Roffey Park Institute and for the Horsham Festival two years ago, we organised an exhibition of paintings under the subject ‘Flock’. I challenged myself to create 10 bird paintings and it was great to work with that focus. Now, having tried various styles over five years, my output has narrowed to predominantly focus on the natural world.

I recently exhibited at The Capitol in Horsham. I called the exhibition ‘Where’s Morag?’ as the idea was that people could guess the scenes in the paintings. There was a beach scene of Worthing, one of Park House in Horsham and local gardens including Wakehurst. While some of my paintings are representations of popular locations, others are meant to capture a feeling and an experience. I like a hint of abstract from time to time. I'm aiming for pictures that have depth and intrigue, with hidden visuals and techniques. When you step back, you can see what the painting represents, but inside are little puzzles too! I love the idea of adding things that you wouldn’t see in a photo.

A lot of my output depicts bright flowers and birds. But I have recently painted beach scenes that I've deliberately kept minimal, to make them tranquil. We all live busy lives and people don't always want something busy on the wall too. They want something soothing. These beach scenes are calmer with less colour, and the feedback to them has been encouraging. My paintings of the pebbles on Worthing beach and the cow parsley have perhaps been the pieces most remarked upon, which has been enormously gratifying for me as they best represent my artistic direction. 

I have an unusual method of working on two paintings at the same time. I think I’m a naturally anxious person and working on dual pieces helps me keep calm. If I’m struggling on one and getting frustrated, I move on to the other piece. This method can help with commissions too. It may be that someone has a certain perception in mind, but with two versions, you can be more experimental with one of the paintings. Normally, I find it’s best to stick with your gut feeling when it comes to colours though, rather than trying to please others. Not everyone will like your style, but that’s life! 

I’m still very passionate about the teaching of art to teenagers. I've returned to Millais to teach mindfulness, trying to help people lead a rich and full life.I’ll also be running an arts award programme for teenagers during the summer holidays. The format is inspired by the Duke of Edinburgh Award, with the emphasis on art. Teaching has become enormously stressful and children are under so much pressure, in a way that they never used to be. For many pupils, it feels like a sprint, but it's not; it's a marathon. I feel there’s a disparity between how we measure a child’s progress and what is actually important. In my exit interview, I told the very lovely and understanding Head Teacher that of all the boxes pupils had to tick, there wasn’t one for laughter or confidence. Many passionate teachers share similar views. 

Morag will be involved in ‘The Other Summer Exhibition’ at the Green Tree Gallery at Borde Hill, Haywards Heath on 30 June - 1 September. She’ll also be facilitating a ‘Fresh Air Friday’ walk on 20 July. For more details visit www.morag.warrack.com