Art and photos by Morley.
The first time I saw Los Angeles based street artist Morley’s work was on a trip to LA where I was driving around the city with my dad. On the opposite side of the street and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted one of Morley’s genius observations on life. I did what anyone would do in this situation. I made an illegal U-Turn, turned my car hazard lights on and declared “this is a street art emergency.” I took some pictures, got back in the car and went on my merry way. Aside from his public acknowledgment of his love for old Nintendo games and mittens, very little was known about Morley. Until now!
According2G: Kicking things off with a 2 part question. How did you get started in street art, and is that you featured in your work?
Morley: I got started in street art while I was living in New York. I went to college at a place called The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan where I majored in screenwriting. I moved there from Iowa and started noticing the “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” stickers and the beginnings of Neckface, who was also a student at SVA. As someone who felt like my main talent was in writing, it never occurred to me that I could participate in such a visual medium. Nevertheless, I started silk-screening slogans and quotes onto contact paper and sticking them up all over the city. In New York you’re surrounded by people at an incredibly close proximity so it’s hard to ignore the desperate sadness that so many people radiate. My goal was to try and give those people a little message of hope and encouragement. Something to keep them going – or at least, give them a laugh.
Once I moved out to Los Angeles I started to see a different sort of populous. Almost everyone (including myself) came here with a dream. To be an actor, a musician, a filmmaker, etc. While our generation was instilled with, some might say, an over active sense of ambition, it was never prepared to endure the endless rejection, frustration and disappointment that comes with having big dreams. I decided I needed to continue my hobby out here, but this time I wanted to include something that would identify the slogans, something that would make people recognize them as something coming from someone. A kindred spirit, a comrade in arms. So I decided to start including drawings of me in each of the pieces. I also decided that I needed to go bigger so I started blowing up the pieces to poster size.
A2G: Who are your heroes and influences?
M: Well, saying Banksy is a little bit like being a grunge band in the early 90s and saying your hero is Kurt Cobain but I’d be lying if I didn’t include him in the list. The work of JR and Slinkachu are also big inspirations. On the other hand, most of my biggest influences aren’t based in street art. Miranda July, Mike Mills, Adrian Tomine, Raymond Carver, Eric Bogosain, Ben Gibbard, Sean Daley, John Darnielle and John K. Samson are all people who have informed my work. As far as artists that I admire in the scene right now, I’d say Shark Toof, Swift, Desire Obtain Cherish, Common Cents, Snyder, Blinky, Septerhed, Destroy All Design and Dog Byte are all great artists that help make the scene as exciting as it is out here.
A2G: You are very prolific in your art. How long does it take from inception to having the work up on the street?
M: The nice thing about my process is that it takes very little time. Once I come up with the phrase, it only takes a couple hours to get the drawing for it. Once I have the design completed, I take it down to Kinkos to blow up on their enlarger and then I can post it that same day.
A2G: What’s the coolest thing that has happened to you as a result of your art?
M: I suppose it’s pretty cool to have someone like you ask me questions about why I do what I do. When I started, I was just happy to have a way to relive my pent up creative energy and put out positive messages into the world. Knowing that people connect with the work enough to thank me is the biggest compliment I could hope for. Second to that, working with The Outsiders has been a lot of fun.
A2G: Is street art a crime?
M: Yes, in that it’s against the law. The paradox that most street artists ignore when asked this question is that the difference between vandalism and street art is quality. If everyone was as talented as Banksy it would be easy to defend but the truth is that there is a lot of crap out there. I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find someone who thinks I belong in that category. If I were a store owner, I’d be pissed off if someone sprayed some illegible tag sloppily across my wall. Hypocritically, I get annoyed when someone puts a sticker over one of my posters. So since quality is so subjective, maybe the easiest answer is to just buff it all, the bad as well as the good. But in a way, it’s the temporary nature of the medium that gives it value. I honestly don’t think any mature street artist (including Banksy) would feel comfortable if they knew their work would last forever, so instead we think of the city as being one big chalkboard. We make our little doodle and sooner or later the teacher is gonna wipe it clean, and that’s okay. There’s a fleeting beauty to the communication you’re having with the public that is part of what makes street art different than an art gallery or a museum. So yes, it is a crime, but as long as the artists maintain just a little bit of integrity and the “man” limits his punitive consequences, the law and the breakers of that law should be able to co-exist. I hope that made sense.
A2G: You’ve said on your official website that you keep a day job. Take us through a typical day in your life.
M: I try to get up mostly on the weekends or the odd day off. I post stuff in the afternoons for a number of reasons. The first is that I’m a bit of a grandpa and like to go to sleep around eleven pm. The other is that I assume the police keep a more vigilant eye at night. Third, when I take pictures of the piece, it’s looks better in the daylight. Forth, if I get busted, explaining that I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to put up posters is a little bit harder to do convincingly at two in the morning. I find that the more brazen you behave, the more people just assume you have permission to do it. I keep the trunk of my car stocked with glue, posters and paint markers and I just drive around looking for spots. Sometimes I see a spot that I plan to revisit so I write it down. If it’s a workday, I’ll put up the occasional poster before or after work but it’s not usually a full mission per se’.
A2G: Show us one thing the world has never seen before from the world of Morley.
M: I choose to show you this picture of my cat wearing a little sweater.
A2G: Tell us some of your favorites: Music, movies, books, etc.
M: I always hate these questions because as soon as I see my answer in print, I remember something that seems like a complete betrayal not to mention… but here goes: Music: I love The Beatles. This year I read three big long books about them and I’m still endlessly fascinated by their music and the impact they had on modern culture. Obviously the musicians I named in the influence question are great too. Movies: A few of my favorites would include, Taxi Driver, Buffalo ’66, Back to the Future, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Rear Window, Before Sunrise and Unbreakable (though a lot of people think I’m crazy for liking it). Books: The authors I already mentioned. Also “Blankets” by Craig Thompson, “The Elephant Vanishes” by Haruki Murakami and anything by Garrison Keillor is great. I would also read the phone book if it was written by David Sedaris.
A2G: Do you keep your personal and street art life separate?
M: Many of my phrases are from my real life but then some aren’t. Let me amend that, some of the phrases are from a memory or pain I’ve since overcome but wanted to express for others that may relate to it. I don’t think that an artist can really be much good if they aren’t infusing who they are into their work. The kind of art that appeals to me is the kind that brings a voice to a feeling or mood that seemed inexpressible. The more honesty and vulnerability that I bring to my work, the more that people might feel it speaks to them and their own experiences directly. My blog is an extension of that goal, so I try to be an open book as much as possible there as well.
A2G: What does the future hold for you, Morley?
M: I know The Outsiders want to do another set of prints in a few months, which is exciting but I’m doing my best not to put too much focus on that aspect of my work. I am incredibly flattered that someone would want to pay money for my stuff and having Lazarides and company be the people who want to sell it for me is a huge honor. That said, I get a lot of joy from putting my stuff in the streets and if for some reason no one wanted to sell or buy my stuff ever again, I’d like to think it wouldn’t affect my original intentions. It may sound dumb coming from a white kid from Iowa, but as far as my art goes, the street is home.
If you feel that you still don’t know what Morley is about, you can find out 54 more things about him on his official site. Keep your eyes peeled for Morley’s work on the streets of Los Angeles.
Thanks Morley for a great interview. – Geoffrey