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Rising or Setting

Updated on April 19, 2016

Rising or Setting by Jordan Lance Morgan

During the last days of the Convention at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Franklin looked at the Convention President's chair. He observed on the President's seat was a sun carved into the crown. Its rays creating a 180 degree semi-circle. Above the head of the sun a Phrygian cap is raised upon a rod. Observing this symbol Franklin said

"I have often ... in the course of the session ... looked at that sun behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun." It is within my opinion that we in America in 2016 have found ourselves in this uncertainty with the future of this nation due to the political climate. While I do not see it fit to assert my political opinion within this essay, I will say I have often looked at our presidential candidates and have felt somewhat the same perplexity as Franklin must have felt. Is the sun rising or setting? I wonder if our founding fathers could see what we have became would they have fought to become free and independent? This quote and this question inspired me to make my largest painting to date. The 64”x64” oil on canvas painting entitled “Rising or Setting” depicts a ghostly portrait of Franklin in a black mass, his face glowing in the darkness. His green and maroon flesh along with the heavy blacks and whites evoke characteristics of German expressionist painting. As the viewer looks around the image, the head is disembodied and floating and emerging from a mass of darkness as if his head was a planet. The expression on Franklin’s face seems tired, in thought, and ambiguous, the cast light alludes to a film noir still. I have struggled as an artist to create historical portraits that are informative to the viewer and are relevant our times. I feel that this painting is starting to cross the line of historical and become relevant for today. If the audience is unsure of it’s meaning, I still rely on the technical narrative to propound its meaning. In the essay “Deeply Felt and Vividly Portrayed Dialogue of Art.” The author brings up “criteria for the success or failure of a contemporary artwork”. They state that contemporary art is “essentially the same as those applied to one from any other era: Does it pose or prompt interesting question? Does its material, formal and conceptual elements work effectively with each other? Does it interact productively with its context? Does it achieve what it set out to achieve?”

I feel like an artist may have a difficult time being fully objective when answering these questions. Due to the fact that sometimes what is perfectly clear to the artist may be lost to the viewer. However, I do feel that this is a wonderful example of what an artist should be thinking about while producing work. When it comes to my painting, I may not be able to fully check all the boxes. I do feel this offers some guidance for me from an opinion on how to make a historical painting survive in contemporary world.

Rising or Falling


oil on Canvas



Sizing: Gamblin PVA

Ground: Golden’s Acrylic Gesso (I typically use Williamsburg lead white oil ground, do to time I had to use Acrylic)

-Golden’s Raw Sienna

Oil paint: Old Holland, Williamsburg, Winsor & Newton, Utrecht (Flemish White)

Medium: Sun thicken linseed oil, Venetian turpentine, and English distilled turpentine


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