MORLEY’S MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How did you start out as an artist?
I discovered street art when I attended college in New York at a place called The School of Visual Arts. I had moved there from Iowa and become fascinated by the blossoming street art scene of the early 2000s. I was majoring in screenwriting at the time and found the notion of creating art for an audience without having to go through the endless battalion of gatekeepers and middlemen intoxicating. I was seeing artists like Shepard Fairey and Neckface getting up in my neighborhood and while I liked their stuff, I wanted to send messages a little more candidly communicative so my style started to develop from there.
How would you describe your art?
I’d call it something along the lines of “public expressions of hope, humor, poetic reverie and relatable frustration.”
Why do you include a drawing of yourself in many of your pieces?
At the very start I was just screen-printing my slogans onto Contact Paper and sticking them around the subways of New York. When I moved out to Los Angeles I started to feel very aware of how little human interaction I’d have from day to day. People spend so much time in their cars and on their phones and you can start to feel like a ghost. I wanted people that saw something I did to know that it came from a person. Not a logo or a brand but another human. Another soldier in the battle of hope, sharing the trenches with them. I wanted people to create a relationship with the art- as though it was coming from a friend, not a super hip urban folk hero like Banksy- whose work I admire but who’s mythic level of clever coolness I couldn’t hope to match. Instead I decided to stand by my words- in all my awkwardly unfashionable glory- as literally as I possibly could.
Is what you do illegal?
Yup. But over the last few years people have had an evolving appreciation of what street art can offer a community.
Have you ever been arrested?
I’ve come close a number of times. I’ve had cops stop me and frisk me and threaten to throw me in jail. I’m simply respectful and quick to peel off my poster and clean up any mess. Thus far they’ve all let me go with a warning.
What inspires you, where do you find motivation?
What inspires me to create my art is the hope of offering someone solace in discovering you aren’t alone in your struggles, which is why I include a portrait of myself in my pieces. I want my messages to come from another person, someone they share the trenches with. Los Angeles, like many major cities, is packed with people on the verge of giving up or questioning why they haven’t yet. I know these feelings well and if I can offer a few words of hope, encouragement, advice or even just humor, then my mission and my art has value. Whenever I experience art that articulates something I felt but couldn't express, there’s such a sense of relief. I strive for that in my work first and foremost. The fact that I express these ideas in an illegal fashion, as opposed to through art that is commissioned, is important to me as I have no commercial filter, no agenda beyond creative expression. The fact that people may see it one day and the next it's been painted over or torn down speaks to the temporary nature of things and the need to be awake and alive in each moment because it won't last long.
Beyond that, I find inspiration in all of my relationships- friends, family and I search for it in all the art forms, books, poetry, philosophy, fine art, photography, films, music- all that good stuff. I think artists should always seek out as many creative flavors as possible.
Who is your audience?
My audience is made up of anyone who might stumble upon something I’ve done and (hopefully) discover something edifying about it.
Where do you put up the majority of your art?
I live in Los Angeles and so I try to make use of the full breadth of canvas that is my city. There aren’t a lot of cities that allow you to create art in environments as varied as Beverly Hills and Compton in the same day. I do enjoy spreading my wings a bit into different cities, states and countries even, but as I’m so intimately familiar with the people and places of Los Angeles, speaking to them is where I’m most practiced.
In what way is graffiti different from street art?
They aren't different for most people. Street art is anything that expresses something creative in a visual manner and is done generally without permission. You can do this with a can of spray paint or a sticker or a wheatpasted poster or with yarn. Some people make street art by putting googly eyes on things. The people that see graffiti as different are generally purists that see one as being born out of an urban sub-culture, generally created by lower income minorities who were frequently getting arrested and using whatever they had to express themselves- and they see people these days being celebrated and rewarded with big gallery shows and it bothers them, perhaps rightfully so. So they create arbitrary definitions and to most graffiti writers, street art is looked down upon as being for hipsters- whereas graffiti is somehow more pure. I think this is posturing and that in the end, graf writers are street artists as much as anyone else.
What makes street art different than vandalism?
I think the intention is what defines it. If the intention is to mark your territory with a lazy gang tag it's not serving an artistic purpose. If you want to create property damage for the sake of doing damage that's not expressing yourself creatively. It's expressing yourself, but not creatively and thus it's not edifying anyone, not offering them anything that they can appreciate.
Are you scared when you do what you do?
At first there was a terrifying thrill but not as much anymore. I’ve gotten pretty good at working fast, at picking spots that I am confident I can knock out quickly and quietly and I avoid situations that would piss anyone off enough to get very hostile.
How do you choose a location for your art?
I try to take into account how much damage I’m potentially doing and who will be tasked with dealing with it. I like temporary structures- such as walls covering construction yards, or wood panels covering the windows of vacant buildings- places that can either be painted over or removed without much money or effort being expended. I never wanted someone to say: “that’s a positive message- expressed in an unnecessarily destructive way.” For me, basic consideration and public art don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Are you passionate about any social issues?
I am passionate about the issues that I feel my work can have some positive impact on. I support organizations that range from poverty and the homeless to suicide prevention, to animal rescue and ethical treatment, to fundraising for youth art classes. I’m less inclined to more overtly political issues as I find them too divisive, so I tend to keep my personal politics to myself.
Why use public walls and buildings instead of canvas in a gallery?
I have nothing against art in a gallery and I feel privileged anytime I’m invited to have my work in one- but for me, the public setting is what gives my work any significance. The statement “I promise you you’re not just a waitress” means one thing in a gallery. But for a waitress walking home after a long shift at work, wondering if she’ll ever achieve the dreams that brought her to Los Angeles- to her it means something more. It’s a message just for her and maybe it’s the moment she needs it most. That to me, makes all the difference.
Do you have any examples of any piece of yours where the location has a significance in its meaning?
Well- to go back to my Compton/Beverly Hills example, I’d never put a poster about materialism in Compton and I’d never put a poster about struggling through adversity in Beverly Hills. A specific example though would be the pieces I’ve done on bus stop benches that deal with waiting- one of which says: “I Will Wait Until Then Is Now” which I like to think refers to something a bit more profound than just waiting for a bus- but it’s a good starting point.
What is your own life slogan?
I read somewhere- I’m not sure where it was or who said it- but they said: “Failure isn’t that you didn’t succeed, but rather it’s succeeding in things that don’t matter.” That’s a pretty important message for me right now and something I’m going to try and hold tight to.
What is the best advice you could give to people who are still growing up and figuring it all out?
Embrace what makes you distinctive. We all want to be cool- but cool is boring and easily forgotten. It’s un-cool to celebrate your frailty, to raise your weak humanity like a flag and carry it into battle. The great thing is, even if you lose the battle- no one will forget the bravery it takes to enter the fray as you are, without a justification or an apology. And really- isn’t that the kind of glory we all want to be remembered for?
What advice do you have for aspiring artist?
I would just say that the most important thing any artist of any medium can do is to find their voice. It’s difficult to create art that isn’t your best imitation of the artists that you admire but the best thing you can do is mine your heart for what defines your perspective. 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.
And lastly: What do you want your audience to receive from your art?
In a perfect world, every person that passes something I’ve done would feel like the poster was about their unique and specific struggle. That somehow that poster was meant for them and them alone and would provide a small bit of encouragement, advice or even just a smile to their day. To offer them the relief in knowing that they are not alone in feeling the way they feel. Providing the sense that my art was just for that ONE person- but having hundreds or thousands of people each individually feel that way would be amazing.