I first met Morgan when I stumbled into his open studio at Space4Art and I told him his paintings reminded me of Ben Shahn's. Of all the studios I went through, his really stuck in my mind from that night. Morgan’s art is both cinematic and sinister, inspired by boyhood fantasies and a fascination with the American West portrayed in pop culture. We met up with Morgan at his East Village studio where he fed us cold Hawaiian pizza and entertained us with his "adult magazine" collection while talking about his work in his upcoming show The Sun Hung Low or A Question Loomed set to open at Habitat House next Wednesday.
What got you out of bed this morning?
The adobada burrito I ate the night before. Well, I guess the morning before. Why is it that salad never sounds good at two o'clock in the morning? My life would be so much more pleasant. However, it does get to me to work earlier. I like to get most of my work done at night, but I try to keep a small pad of paper and some ink and a few colors in my shack so I can try to get some sketches and ideas out before I head to the job that pays me.
Describe the imagery in your work and how you got there?
Most of the imagery in my paintings is derived from magazines and cinema. I am a big movie buff. I love the idea of cinema as the mythology of the contemporary moment. It really does form how we think of who we are. And historically, painting worked as great extension for mythologies.
This newest body of work is mainly from Western movies of the mid-twentieth century and also a lot of California post cards; you know, the one's with butts and palm trees and beautiful sunsets. It's a distillation and reinterpretation of those particular mythos, to figure out what they say about us and about myself in particular as a mere mortal, a man, a Californian, and an American searching out the Dream. Cinematic cowboys and California vacations seem to be very apt metaphor to explore these ideas.
What or who influences you/your work?
Different people and things and experiences in different ways. Lately I've been thinking a lot about SRO Lounge as a big influence. If you've never been there you have to go, it's the best bar in San Diego. It's a small bar on 5th avenue whose main clientele is the transgendered community and fans of such. The interior is this very odd Rococo style, with Fragonard prints and everything which I find very swell. But what always strikes me when I'm there is this: most men go about their lives attempting to be the vision of man, playing up there masculinity and trying to be as whatever they think they must. This is one of the few places you can go where everyone can be accepted for who they just are, without the influence of John Wayne or what have you.
If you meant as an artist I'd mainly say some classic painters, El Greco, Goya, Manet, Matisse to name a few. Some really great people I am pleased to know and hear their opinions: Peter Hurley, Shalo P., Calvin Trezise, Mike Calway-Fagen, Joshua Miller, Christopher Culver, Keith Boadwee um jeeze I don't want to leave anyone out that's crucial to helping me think through things. I need a lot of help (laughs).
What’s with all the porno mags in your studio? What influence do they have on your work?
Well I guess they give insight into the male psyche. There's a pretty wide range in there. I don't really know anymore. I mainly just collect and keep things around for when I might need them. They used to play an important role in my work, but lately not as much. I try to rely less on sexuality in such a blatant sense. Even though sexuality is still just as important to me as it ever was I think it can be said better through it's absence, after all that is how most of us seem to deal with it.
What drew you to painting and collage?
It was this weird rabbit hole I fell into. When I went to San Fransisco Art Institute I was mainly doing photography but by my second year really missed using my hands. Long story short I start painting from my photos instead of printing them and then started painting who-ever's photos. It start with creating strange narratives from family photos and then just became it's own beast. It became a better way for me to describe and interpret things. There's a lot of information packed into a single brush mark. Plus it was just so much fun. It was and still is a challenge because I really never had any formal technical training in painting or drawing.
Collage was a little different. I never liked drawing very much. It always seemed like a hassle, but collage was a way for me to make sketches for my paintings, but they sort of just grew into their own thing. Sometimes I would make a painting from one and then realize "Wow that was already done before I painted it."
What do you dream about?
A good woman once told me stories about dreams are as boring as work stories. But honestly I can't remember them after the first day. The day after though I can remember everything then I'll tell you some twenty minute story about my dream. Maybe she just meant my dream stories; the work stories are pretty long too. (laughs).
Why have you stayed in San Diego?
When I first moved back to San Diego after San Francisco, and then Portland I really meant to just be here for a few months. That was in 2008. Mainly falling head over heels in love kept me here at first. As time's gone on though I have become more and more attached to the city and to the arts community. I collect movies and magazines, to do that you have to be a digger. To be an art lover in San Diego is much the same, you have to dig to find the good stuff but when you find it, it's so rewarding. God I just realized I think I stole that sentiment from Jurassic Park (laughs).
Right now it's super exciting to be a part of the art community here because there is so much beginning to happen. Space 4 Art is doing great, Agitprop, the opening of Double Break and Helmuth Projects, the continuation of SDMA's Summer Salon Series. I just feel like there's so much momentum it would be kind of foolish to jump off.
And lastly, what's your sign?
I'm a gemini. I like long walks on the beach. Maybe. Well I don't know. I can't make up my mind. What do you want to do?