“It’s incredibly freeing to look at the city as the medium to communicate artistically with people instead of just as a collection of billboards, offices, and gas stations. All of the sudden, the world is a little warmer and the smog is a little more bearable.”
That one is a new favorite of mine. It originates from my childhood, when I dreamed of becoming a filmmaker. It was the first job that I ever wanted to have (not counting wanting to be Batman when I was six). As I got closer to graduating high school, I started hearing the same phrase over and over. “I really envy you for knowing what you want to do with your life.” This was due to the majority of kids my age being unsure of the kind of future they wanted to pursue. As time went on, however, I realized that often I’d rather not know. Because every year that passed where I wasn’t a filmmaker was agony. This reminded me of the days when I would have a crush on some girl. I could picture just how perfect things would be if she felt the same and in doing so was reminded of just how far off that reality really was from me. I took these notions and considered just how awful having an active imagination can be at times. The more vividly you can picture the life you always wanted, the more disappointment you subject yourself to. I felt like this idea was something that many people could relate to – and even extrapolate it to the level of someone dreaming of world peace or ending famine, having to accept the violence and hunger that may never be overcome. It made me realize that perhaps dreaming is a kind of curse in a way.
I might be wrong but it seems like you were heartbroken at some point in your life; is this true and is your art somehow a therapy for this heartbreak? One of the reasons I asked is because you had a piece that said, “In my dreams it’s me that says ‘I Don’t Love You.’”
I think we’ve all at some point experienced heartbreak. It’s possible that some sort of painful love-related devastation is a prerequisite of being truly happy. Maybe only after we’ve experienced that kind of thing can we understand enough about ourselves to seek out what we actually need to do to find the right person. And if we’re extra stubborn, maybe it takes a few heartbreaks. Luckily I only needed a couple. Now I’m happily married. From time to time, however, I revisit old wounds for the benefit of those who might be in a similar place. In my life, some of the most potent pieces of art were those that acted as a voice to the sadness I held inside. Music, movies, books. If they somehow found a way to verbalize or visualize my own grief, I appreciated it on a much deeper level. I wanted to access that reservoir of emotion and perhaps to speak to someone who needed it. As far as the poster you referenced specifically, I spent a fair amount of time in my head considering who and where I would be if I could go back and do things differently. Would I feel better if I had rejected them instead of the other way around? The truth is, probably not, but it’s fun to let one’s mind wander.
How do you come up with the captions / sayings for your street art pieces?
I kind of just sit and think and eventually they pop in my head. The goal is to tell a story with a single phrase. In the way that comic books give you a series of images and your brain fills in the movement that happens between the panels, I want my slogans to make you create a little story around it. Some are simplistic and more humorous in nature, some attempt to be more profound, but all of them are supposed to make the viewers determine the context for themselves. I might help them along in interviews like this or on my blog, but if someone sees something that moves them because of their own story, I don’t want to ruin that for them with my own interpretation.
What street artist of the past 40 years has had the most impact on your art?
If we were talking strictly about street artists that have affected me, the obvious answer would be Banksy. Even if you don’t like his work, he’s definitely had the most significant impact on the street art scene in a number of ways. Anyone who doesn’t say him is probably just trying to sound cool by name-dropping someone more obscure. In that spirit I’ll say that JR has impacted me a lot personally. His motivation for doing what he does is more aligned with mine than any of the other artists out there right now. He puts up his giant photos for the edification of the community that he posts it in, and to bring a glimmer of life and hope to these people by putting a microscope to their humanity is a very noble cause. I like to think I try to do something similar, only using words and phrases.
Even with all the publicity and mainstream notoriety that street art has received it is still illegal … Every time you are in the streets are you still constantly looking over your shoulder and do you think that the system will ever legalize street art? If so, would it completely destroy/alter the meaning of street art?
To be honest, I don’t really worry too much anymore. I think that as a whole, Los Angeles has learned to embrace street art enough that if you’re not being an idiot with how you do it, no one will mind. I obviously don’t take the kind of risks that others take, and so the consequences they face can be extreme. I never went into this with the goal of doing significant property damage and I don’t think it’s required to be a relevant street artist. I think the only logical answer is to keep it illegal but limit what kind of punishment someone who gets busted should face. I would be okay with getting a ticket of some kind if I was busted. Do I think I should do jail time? Of course not. For one thing, it costs the city more to incarcerate someone than to buff their vandalism and for another it’s a less dangerous crime than speeding, running a stop sign, or texting while driving, so it should be viewed accordingly. Finally, I think the nature of street art is that it’s temporary. Street artists can only share the streets because they get cleaned every now and again. If we wanted our work to last forever, we’d paint on canvases and hang them in our living rooms.
I asked you previously about imagination … Thoreau was quoted saying, “The world is but the canvas to our imaginations.” Do you personally think that the world is the canvas to your imagination?
Absolutely. I think that anyone with dreams of affecting our culture on any level sees the world that way. There’s that famous Robert Kennedy quote: “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” I think on a more literal level; street artists, at least the good ones, just want to express themselves to a world that’s becoming progressively more overwhelmed by advertising and mixed messages from all sides of the media. It’s incredibly freeing to look at the city as the medium to communicate artistically with people instead of just as a collection of billboards, offices, and gas stations. All of the sudden, the world is a little warmer and the smog is a little more bearable.
Where has been your favorite city in the world to leave your mark?
I wish I could say that I’ve had the pleasure to hit more cities but I’ve really only hit a few. My goal is to one day take an extended trip across the US and hit a plethora of cities both big and small. I can say that for the most part, nearly all of my posters were created with Los Angeles in mind, so it’s home for me.
Mark Gormley ‘Without You’ … Where did you find this video and is he serious?
A friend of mine sent me the link. I’m convinced he’s real and that he paid the guy who introduces the video to produce his album and make a music video for it. The video for “Without You” was the result. And what an amazing result it is.
Are you “too cool” for a Facebook page?
Sadly, I am not. Whenever someone says, “Yeah, I don’t have a Facebook page” there’s always that temptation to say “oh, me neither. Facebook is for losers!” but then I’d worry that they would find out that not only do I have a Facebook page but had MySpace AND Friendster pages once upon a time. What can I say; I’m a product of my generation. I tried to avoid having a Facebook page for Morley for quite awhile though, mostly because having a counter of how many people care about you destroys the illusion that the number is higher. The ability to easily update people won however, and it was kind of humbling, I won’t lie.
When did you start incorporating your self-portrait into your pieces?
Once I started putting up stuff in Los Angeles. The reason was to really give people the impression that these messages were coming from an actual person. This would, in theory, increase the connection between artist and audience. The other reason was to embrace the differences between myself and the other street artists out there. I was always a little insecure about my stuff being text based and not super visual until I realized that it’s that that sets me apart. So while many are anonymous, I put my picture on all of my stuff.
What is your favorite John Candy movie and why?
I would say “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” because it’s such a perfect blend of hilarity and heartwarming. This film gave Candy the chance to shine on every level as a performer. His comedic timing is without flaw while at the same time his dramatic scenes have such an amazing subtly and depth that it’s kind of a crime that he didn’t get an Oscar nomination. To me it’s so obvious why “Due Date” couldn’t hope to reach the artistic success of “Planes, Trains…” and the main factor was John Candy. Call me crazy but I would say, at his best, his genius is on par with Charlie Chaplin.