As you all know, this is my favorite section of the site. I really enjoy delighting my sight with art, all aspects of it. There is so much great art out there, sometimes it takes me a bit to pick who I’m going to feature every month. Lets not forget that December and art was like the Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory was to the kids with the golden tickets. This month, I am more than honored to bring you Morley, a very talented and original artist with some really interesting points of view as a person, an artist and a maverick in his field. Here’s a bit more for you to get a feel on what he’s about:
Morley is a Los Angeles-based street artist that specializes in bold, typographic posters which he wheat pastes within the urban landscape. Blending humor, hope and his unique perspective on life, Morley’s aim is to act as a friendly voice amongst the cacophony of billboarded messages and corporate slogans. This voice was given a face when he began including an image of himself in each of his pieces, looking to create a more intimate relationship between the artist and the audience than many of his anonymous contemporaries could allow.
After checking his art out at his blog, I went ahead and emailed him. I got a response from the man himself, so I put together some questions, he put together the answers and guess what? We have an interview for you to enjoy and get to know our featured artist. Hope you enjoy!
JR: The name Morley really caught our attention; we all kind of related it to a cartoonist at first. Where does the name come from?
M: Morley is actually my middle name. As a kid I was always embarrassed of it. It just sounded very ‘old man-y’ and un-cool. For years I wished it was something better, I’d even offer up awesome suggestions like Logan or Chewbacca to my mother who stubbornly refused to sign the legal papers. It wasn’t until years later while ruminating over the various scars of adolescence that I discovered the value in life’s disappointments. Whether it was getting picked on by kids at school, my parents splitting up, or any of the variety of youthful heartbreaks, these are the things that make us who we are; that make us interesting. They gift us with the personality, creativity and drive to express ourselves. Suddenly my ‘old man-y’ middle name seemed like something I could wear as a badge of honor, so I decided to embrace it proudly.
M: I love all mediums of creative expression because I love telling stories and having the opportunity to speak into someone’s life. These days, the privilege to do so with any kind substantial platform is getting more and more exclusive. Film, music, theater, literature- these all take tremendous amounts of money and validation before people will even take the time to give your work a chance. This was what appealed to me about what I do. Getting to make even a single statement to any of the strangers that might come upon one of my posters is wonderful, if only for the possibility to make someone feel that they are not alone.
JR: Did you start out as a “street artist” since the beginning?
M: I started doing it as more of a hobby while going to college in New York. Back then I was silk screening slogans onto Contact Paper and sticking them up around the subway. I’m originally from Iowa and was unaccustomed to traveling through a city with hundreds of weary and forlorn people silently wading through their day. I had wanted to leave little notes that I thought would give them a ray of hope, something to brighten their day in some way. I never really thought of it as ‘street art’ per say as this was 2000-2004 before the name had gained much traction. I just did it for fun. Once I moved to Los Angeles I had wanted to continue my hobby and decided to go bigger to accommodate the fact that everyone drives here. I also decided to add a drawing of myself in an effort to give the voice an identity, to let you know that the words were coming from a friend and kindred spirit.
JR: What are some of your favorite artists?
As far as visual artists that inspire me, I love Adrian Tomine, JR, Mike Mills, Banksy and Slinkachu. Writing is obviously a big part of what I do and some of the writers that I love would include Raymond Carver, Haruki Murakami, Miranda July and David Sedaris. Looking back at this list I’m sure I come across as the most stereotypical hipster, but what can I say? I like what I like. I’m also a big comic book fan so I love Alan Moore, Brian K. Vaughn, Jeph Loeb and just about anything Batman related.
I like to think so. Spending your days watching uncut interviews with desperate people gives you an interesting perspective to the lengths that someone will go to find a modicum of love or success or acceptance. I tend not to watch any of the shows I’ve worked on for a variety of reasons but mainly because they aren’t very good. You could say that one of the more inspiring aspects of my job is the desire to contribute something of value to perhaps counter-act all the junk that I’ve helped funnel down our collective consciousness.
JR: How do you come up with what you do?
I start with a sentiment that would mean something to me if I saw it. I then do my best to condense that to its most concise, eloquent and relatable phrasing. Often, I draw inspiration from something that my friends and family would appreciate. The idea is that if one of us can relate to something, than there’s a good chance that a lot of us can. The goal is always to balance the specific and the universal evenly.
M: I think the biggest difference between big cities and small towns is that it’s so much easier to feel swallowed by the level of anonymity one can experience. In a big city you can come in contact with hundreds of people and yet never speak to even one. It’s also the big cities where people come to chase their dreams and often face the kind of disappointment that can decimate one’s heart. These are the people who I am most passionate about reaching. Of course these people exist in small towns too, and I hope to one day have the chance to put up posters in those kinds of environments as well, but the sheer number of people in any major American city makes for a pretty large audience.
M: That is me. I just downplay my effortless Hugh Jackman-esque physique.
JR: Finally someone who is not so secretive about identity! Do you think artists do the whole identity thing due to the police?
M: For sure. I’ve had to dial back my ‘full disclosure’ mentality a bit to protect myself. As embraced as street art has become by society, we still get busted all the time. I’m sure there are those who just like having an invented Banksy-style secret street identity but I can’t begrudge someone for that. How else are we supposed to feel like superheroes?
M: The best spots for what I do have three things in common… 1) Visibility. A lot of people can see them. Whether it’s passing cars or people walking by, putting the posters in places that will be right in your face is key. 2) Diversity. I love the city electrical boxes, mostly because they hit the previous rule quite well, but if all I ever posted on were electrical boxes, it would get a little dull. Finding new and interesting places to put my posters is important. One of the reasons that this is challenging is because I don’t like to post on anything that will do significant damage to private or public property. If I made a habit of doing so, it would create a lot more animosity, which would lead to a higher likelihood that police would want to arrest me. If the cops are somewhat ambivalent to what I do now, I’d like to keep it that way. A lot of artists have gotten arrested because they forgot one of the most important aspects of street art: courtesy. This might sound like I’m just being cowardly but if you want people to hear you out, you can’t forget to at least consider the collateral damage of how you do what you do. To this end, I look for temporary surfaces and spots that won’t lead to a trashier looking city than before I passed through (if I can help it). 3) Environment. How does the environment you’re putting a poster in alter and affect the message that you’re trying to make? The more that the environment plays a part in giving the work context, the more punch the message will have for the viewer. It also makes the environment part of the piece, and the whole point of street art is to make the street a living, breathing work of art.
M: I did the Morley Men when I noticed that people were ripping my posters down. Not because they didn’t like them but because they wanted to take them home for themselves. Since I’d rather my posters stay up as long as they can I tend to frown on this. However, I wanted to figure out a way to give something to people with the intention of letting them keep it. So I made up a little scavenger hunt and the prizes were these little parachute men, each holding a little Morley sign. I liked the idea of these little guys parachuting around the city with these little messages, and getting caught in various spots- just waiting for someone to rescue them. People seemed to really enjoy the game so I plan to do more in the near future.
M: Really? That’s awesome! I love a little bit of everything. The Beatles, The Mountain Goats, The Avett Brothers, Atmosphere, The Weakerthans, Death Cab For Cutie, Blossom Dearie, Rival Schools, Otis Redding, Frightened Rabbit, Archers of Loaf, Hall and Oates and (old) Weezer.
JR: Have you ever been to Miami, Fl?
M: I have not but I hear it’s lovely.
JR: What do you have lined up for this year? Art Basel, maybe?
M: I’d be up for it. I tend to steer clear of a lot of the more social gatherings for street art as it takes very little for me to get self-conscious and awkward. Avoiding the temptation to feel competitive with my street art comrades is also important to me. That said, Art Basel looks pretty fun, so who knows!
JR: Thanks for your time; Miami is waiting to see some pieces throughout the city!
M: I’d be honored to pay your town a visit!