I can't get over these colorful, intricate pieces by Art Morrill, which are as much cheerful wall sculptures as they are paintings. I particularly love the ones that allow us to delve into their numerous layers and contents like little treasure boxes. So happy that he's shared some of his ideas on his process here!
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Hi Art! First, can you tell me a bit about you? You're originally from New Brunswick and just earned an MFA in 2015 from Mount Royal School of Art at MICA. What first interested you in art making?
While growing up in New Brunswick, Canada, I always spent a lot of time drawing and creating. My mom saw the value of her kids creating things early on and made sure I always had lots of notebooks, supplies, and things to build. So some of my earliest memories are sitting at the kitchen table with markers and butcher paper. After high school I didn't really ever consider pursuing art seriously until I took a couple of art classes my first year of college in order to fill a credit requirement. I was already married, my wife was pregnant, and I went to school out of a sense of responsibility. I got the bug for making art in these classes and, with the encouragement of my wife, decided that making art was more important than being practical. That was ten years ago.
I'm really taken with your recent works in acrylic on wood or MDF, which I think of as bright wall-hanging sculptures. Can you tell me more about these?
Right before starting grad school at MICA my youngest son was born with a serious heart defect. He underwent open heart surgery 3 days after birth and spent a month recovering in the hospital. Two months after he was born we moved to Baltimore for me to pursue my MFA. My time at MICA was spent trying to marry my love for painting and sculpture with the impact my son's surgery had on me. These recent pieces feel like the bridge between those two interests. They feature the visual vocabulary that I understand and love in non-representational painting, but also feature the manipulation of layers and juxtaposition of materials that speak to my son's experience. I was in awe by the number of plastic tubes and wires that penetrated the layers of my son's body. So the wall pieces talk a lot about layers away or dug out, or shaped to reveal other layers like the layers of the body.
A lot of your work is very sculptural and installation-based, and even painting series from a couple of years ago, in which you employ photography, hints at the idea of an environment. Are the recent pieces a departure from this, or do you view it as interlinked?
I go back to photography on and off. I learned photography from Daniel Everett whom you should check out. He turned me on to roaming around and taking photos of the environments I live in. He also got me into photographers like Alec Soth, Stephen Shore, and William Eggleston. My work in grad school started feeling like little living beings and so much of my material was trash that I started exploring how these pieces existed outside of the studio or gallery. This brought my secret life of photography out as a means for visualizing possible spaces for my work to exist in or as documentation for spaces where my work did exist momentarily until someone finally removed it. I left that work really open and still think about it often. The work I'm doing now could very well find its way back to environments other than the white cube.
Can you describe your process? How do you get started on a piece?
My process takes place for a large part in my head. I find myself often thinking about the how to's of my pieces outside of the studio like how I'm going to have something poking through a painting or what kind of materials I might use to build up a surface. I do a sketch or two of possible pieces almost everyday. They usually come right before I go to sleep for some reason and I'm so worried that I'll forget them that I sketch down ideas and notes right away. I teach high school so my time in the studio is limited and has to count.
When I do get into the studio during the time that I've allotted to it, I get right to building, painting, and assembling and so on. A lot of my work consists of different parts put together and I also usually have at least 3 or 4 pieces on the go in different stages. So while I'm building or doing the woodwork for one or two, I'm painting another one, and I'm assembling another one. Sometimes the product in my head turns out to be a bad idea, or I get distracted by a new idea I don't want to forget, so one piece will go unfinished for a while. When I come back to a piece, I've usually forgotten what I had originally planned. Those pieces usually turn out the best.
What is your studio space like?
My studio space is in a very old building that my friend owns and is renovating. He's slowly turning the top floor into his apartment while we share the second floor for our studios. We have a full on wood shop and everything is under a slow constant renovation so we have a lot of walls that are just bare 2x4s with plastic stapled to them in order to keep the dust out. It's what I imagine a meth lab to look like. I work mostly on a workbench on wheels and move around space depending on what I'm doing or what's happening with the renovations. Despite how fluid the space is it really feels at home. I don't really have a part of the studio set aside for painting, another for building, and so on. Most everything happens side by side.
What is the most difficult or challenging aspect of pursuing art seriously?
I always wish I had the time to make art like I had in university. Now I juggle having a family and a job with having a studio practice. I have to be a lot more deliberate now that I'm out of school. I have time set aside for my family and time set aside for the studio. I try to mess with those plans as little as possible. All the other distractions that come with paying the bills and trying to stay engaged with being an artist gets squeezed into the time that's left. So much of my time is busy with this, that, and the other thing that I don't really have that much time to worry a lot about the "real art world". I look at art constantly and participate in discussions through whatever means I can, which is what makes institutions like yours so valuable. I'm not worried so much about the gallery because I can't afford to be. Don't get me wrong, I love opportunities to show art but I've structured my life more to allow me to make the things I care about.
What is the best piece of advice you've been given regarding how you view your work?
I think the best thing I learned about how to view my work is to show it to others as much as I can and encourage others to be candid about how they view it. Having a studio mate works well for me because he's able to help me to see the invisible problems right in front of my face.
What compels you to keep making?
So much of making is meditative for me. There's so much noise and distraction now with the busyness of life that time in the studio allows me to focus and put all that aside. I'm also always thinking about making, so I'm always being pushed toward working on the new ideas.
Anything else you would like to add?
I'm in the process of looking for new opportunities at the moment. I'm still really into my wall-hanging pieces but am starting to move away from the 6x6" constraint that I had to more complicated and not necessarily square structures. I'm excited to see where it goes.
Find more at artmorrill.com!
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