While most street artists prefer to uphold a status of anonymity, one in particular stands out with his bold posters that not only depict a self-portrait of the artist himself, but are also strategically placed in high traffic areas [cue drum roll] during daylight hours.
You’ve probably seen them plastered on the underpasses near Los Feliz Boulevard or on electric boxes in Hollywood. A white paste-up, a stenciled caricature, a witty one-liner, and a simple signature: Morley.
Originally from Iowa, and having spent a few years at the School of Visual Arts in New York, Morley came to LA to make films, but quickly fell into the world of street art. His influential posters, which he wheat pastes within the urban landscape, are a blend of humor, hope, and a bit of his own personal experiences and perspective on life. His goal is “to act as a friendly voice amongst the cacophony of billboarded messages and corporate slogans” while also creating an intimate relationship between himself and his audience. We got the chance to interview this prolific artist, who was more than happy to welcome us into his world.
Kiss My Angeles: Did you ever think that your artwork would attract such positive feedback?
Morley: Honestly, when I started putting my stuff on the streets it hadn't really occurred to me that I would get any feedback at all. Before I was putting up posters, I was putting up pieces of Contact paper that I'd silk screened phrases on in the subways of Manhattan. I had moved there from Iowa and become fascinated by the blossoming street art scene of the early 2000s. At the time I had no signature or "street identity" to speak of, so there was no way to get any kind of feedback. Once I moved out to Los Angeles, my ideas began to evolve. The evolution began with the decision to move from what were essentially big stickers to wheat pasted posters. As there isn't a sort of universally used mass transit system, I started customizing my work for the passing car and the street walker. It may sound sort of intentionally naive but at the time that I started including a signature and a drawing of me, it really wasn't to create what you might call a "brand" per say, it was because I wanted to create a symbol that people could recognize and link to other statements that they might have seen elsewhere in the city. To create a relationship with the art that you could consider advice from a friend or a kindred spirit. As the slogans were meant to be empowering, funny and genuine- it seemed only right to have that recognizable symbol that linked the work together be a picture of the artist himself. Looking back now it's been a wonderful, strange and slightly uncomfortable experience being "part of the art" so to speak, because I'm really more of an introvert by nature. I'm not particularly interested in my own personal celebrity and because of this, it took me a while to embrace having a web presence (a website, Facebook, etc.) but I have to say that getting comments and messages from people that appreciate what I do, relate to what I say or find inspiration by my work has been incredibly gratifying and encouraging. That has been a really awesome surprise that I certainly hadn't expected.
KMA: You've indicated several times that your art isn't something you use as a form of publicity or financial gain; but if you had to choose one museum to display your work in, which one would it be and why?
M: Every single time that I walk into a museum I'm always humbled by how much amazing talent lives within its walls. Part of the reason for this is that over time, our society has weeded out so many unworthy of the honor to sit on a wall next to the masters of the form. If I'm being completely sincere- I expect to at some point get weeded out long before I could ever hope to wind up in a museum, so I've never really thought about it. Maybe I'm wrong (wouldn't that be extraordinary?). If so, just being included with other artists that I respect would be fun. That MOCA exhibit from a year or so back "Art In The Streets" was pretty awesome. I would love to make the cut for something like that in the future.
KMA: "I can't be trusted with a time machine" has to be one piece that piques our interest the most. If you had a time machine, what would you do with it?
M: I would immediately go back and take the younger version of myself under my wing. Wouldn't we all be so much happier if we could count as a mentor, the version of ourselves that have ACTUALLY been through everything we're going through? If for no other reason than to remind ourselves to enjoy our youth just a little bit more and live in the moment. These days, I've been building what I call a "retroactive time machine" which is basically just having enough perspective to give myself the same advice in the present, rather than only wishing I could in hindsight. My retroactive time machine still breaks down all the time though.
KMA: How do you balance having a career as a casting editor in TV, a wife, a cat, and your art, and STILL be able to go to bed at 11pm each night?
M: Your guess is as good as mine. I've never been much for socializing so I have extra time not spent at parties or at the club. I think when you've got a creative bent you just find a way. You'd rather be doing that than any other optional activities in life. Some times I get overwhelmed with obligations but mostly I just create as I'm inspired to or prepare for the moment that I can if I'm busy doing all that stuff that pays my rent. Also my wife is pretty awesome and helps me in more ways than I can count. As far as my bedtime, I'm kind of just an old man.
KMA: In one of your interviews you mention that our generation is faced with the ever-growing lack of hope that comes along with the possibility of failed dreams. You also mention that you use your art to express the hope that you still manage to hold on to. What do you do to keep your own hope alive in such trying times, and in a place as competitive as LA?
M: I think that if my work has any kind of authenticity or relatability it's because I draw upon my own fears and frustrations. They are the first place I go for inspiration. So for me, the stuff I write on my posters is the kind of encouragement and advice that I wish someone would say to me. I like to think that if it was someone else putting up my posters, that upon passing one of them, I would feel like that person was talking to me. I often find that the things that we think are intensely personal and apply only to us are usually surprisingly universal so I enjoy sharing my baggage with the world and discovering how many other carry the same load. Of course I count on things like my spiritual faith to give me hope as well as my friends and family- but I think a lot of what it takes to survive in LA is to redefine what success is. If your image of success is narrow and specific, you're pretty much damning yourself to a life of discontent. I think most people struggle with the fact that their idea of success is not so much an actual accomplishment but rather the feeling that the accomplishment will carry with it. This idea of satisfaction, of a personal sense of belonging and acknowledgment. Of someone giving you permission to think of yourself as special and valuable. Most time this feeling is lacking, even after we get what we think we want. Redefining success to be something more practical is vital in being happy and hopeful and to take pride in the goal itself reached, rather than whether reaching the goal brought wealth or fame or even the kind of appreciation you had envisioned. It's easier to hope when your dreams aren't as dependent on someone else's validation, y'know?
KMA: That being said, what's your favorite thing about living and working in LA?
M: I love a lot of things about Los Angeles but I would say that my favorite thing is the variety of landscapes. Not only economical variety (from Beverly Hills to Compton) but of terrain. You have the beach, the desert, the city, the mountains, suburbia, the woods. It just goes on and on. Having all those different kinds of canvas to work with is really creatively empowering.
KMA: What advice can you give to other artists out there who are struggling with the idea of putting their work out there?
M: I would just say that the most important thing any artist of any medium can do is find their voice. The most gratifying thing an artist can experience is feeling that regardless of success, they can know that without them- the universe wouldn't have what they'd created. The world can ignore something if they have some variation of it that's easily accessible- but if you can find something to express in a way that is uniquely personal, you're a lot more likely to get a response from someone who has been looking for a voice like yours.
KMA: One of your most recent blog entries tied in with your 31st birthday, and you mentioned that you "hope to discover that time is never truly wasted if you can find a way to wield it." What are your big plans for making the most of your time in 2013?
M: Well, I've been working on a book that is a collection of photos of my work on the street as well as my thoughts and reflections on what I do. I'm hoping that will pick up speed in the new year. I'm also always looking for news ways to evolve and change my art- holding on to what has given me my voice while continuing to grow and (hopefully) improve.
KMA: Any hints on when/where we can expect to see your next poster?
M: Honestly, nine times out of ten my spots are discovered simply by driving around. For the most part I tend to not plan out a lot of my hits and instead find that spontaneity is a really enjoyable quality. It would be impossible to guess what statements would be applicable to the people that may pass it- which leaves me a lot of freedom to follow whatever inspiration I can find on a particular day.