I came across Morgan's work in Juxtapoz's reader art section. Her bright colors and love for early 90's flare drew me to her website immediately. After an hour of flipping through her sketchbooks and reading her cleverly-written blog, I had to ask for an interview. In her own words...
Morgan Blair is a freelance illustrator, fine artist, and desperado. She is a recent graduate of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), now living in New York and continuing to advance her interest in trees, legos and excellent music. Her ambitions for the present and future include adventure, survival, seeing magma and a real armadillo up close, and making art forever.
1992 - "The Year with the Richest Fashion Trends"
Sezio: Where in New York do you live?
Morgan Blair: I live off the Morgan stop on the L train, between a wonton factory and a Boar's Head meat-packing factory. I've been told that's West Bushwick bordering on Williamsburg. In other words, Brooklyn.
SZ: What are some of your favorite spots:
Art - Jonathan Levine Gallery, and I've been meaning to check out Cinders Gallery in Brooklyn. I can never remember the names of anywhere I've been.
Live Music - There's a sweet place called Goodbye Blue Monday a few streets away from me with tons of antique and vintage stuff piled up on every surface and a weird outdoor area in the back.
Happy Hour - I don't really go to bars that much, so I'm going to say our place. It's always pretty happy here, and drinks are way cheaper. But there's a place called the Alligator Lounge where they give you a free personal pizza with every drink! A free pizza! I also have a fondness for The Red Fez in Providence.
Hallucinations of a Distinguished Sea Captain
SZ: When did you start drawing? Who are some of your influences?
MB: I started drawing when I was little, whenever I had the motor skills to grasp one of those jumbo stick-of-dynamite sized crayons. I remember questioning their unreasonable size. My influences go back to the illustrators whose books I read over and over as a kid - I will geek out over Stephen Gammel and Henrik Drescher forever. A portion of my childhood was also spent attempting to hoard as much Lisa Frank paraphernalia as possible, so I'm sure that phase impacted my sensibilities somehow. I'm really crazy about Maya Hayuk's work. Also Brendan Monroe, Brian Chippendale, Basquiat... the list goes on. Mostly I'm influenced by legos.
SZ: How is your approach to commissioned work different to your personal work?
MB: For myself, I prefer working larger and more abstractly with tedious, endless, mind-numbing (meditative) areas of shapes and pattern. The short freelance deadlines don't seem to indulge the kind of work that takes an ever-loving eternity to finish, so for those commissioned pieces I've been trying to do what I would want to anyway, but more simply and on a smaller scale.
SZ: Do you find the same exploration and satisfaction in it or is it a different experience?
MB: Lately I've been feeling like all I want to do is my own work, but obviously there are ups and downs to both endeavors. I guess my attitude towards freelance work has become more about getting it done to make money and pay rent, with the goal of having fun during the process. And I definitely work better with a fire lit under my ass, so the deadlines that come with freelancing help me to produce work faster. But what I enjoy most about doing my own work is being able to plan out more large-scale ideas that require obsessive periods of concentration. I like when the experience of viewing the finished piece is dizzying, like being re-immersed in the process of making it. Ultimately, I'm looking to do whatever I want at all times, so ideally I should be able to find work that strikes a balance between the two fields and satisfies that ridiculous goal.
Actually, I had an experience in October that came pretty close. I freelanced with a company called Exhibitology, and the job was to use tweezers and glue to painstakingly encrust a large number of styrofoam pears with tiny Swarovski crystals for Saks' Christmas window display. For seven days from nine to five, I sat in a big white room with five other people and without getting up to eat or go to the bathroom I placed white crystals onto white glue on white pears on a white plate, and when I finished one pear I would blink, get up, walk across the room, get another pear, walk back, and start again. The room was freezing cold and downstairs they were coating big styrofoam clouds with resin for the same display, so the fumes wafting up made me totally nauseous, and the experience all the more intense and surreal. Aside from the task being a convenient three-dimensional manifestation of how I paint, the people I worked with were super nice, and we were paid handsomely. So that was extremely fun for me.
SZ: What keeps you going? Do you go through high and low seasons of art-making?
MB: I definitely go through distinct periods of productivity where I have a million ideas and I'm writing, drawing, starting and finishing pieces and even answering emails and paying bills to boot, and then really low times when I feel like I can't even think and my brain is spinning in place inside my skull. I'm not sure how to answer the question of what keeps me going; it keeps coming back to biology. Time, sleeping, not sleeping, my friends, music, public transportation and inevitable reflection for the duration of the ride, a sick, pessimistic enjoyment of bad luck, and an engrained, stubborn New England insistence on enduring the gray and cold are all motivating factors in my life.
SZ: What sacrifices and accommodations do you have to make in order to keep actively creating?
MB: I don't feel like I'm sacrificing very much. If I am, I've been used to it for a while. As a result of not having the income from a steady, full time job I'm extremely cheap and can barely bring myself to buy anything over a dollar. One time my roommate and I went to a free comedy show which turned out to have a two expensive drink minimum, so we sacrificed our potential enjoyment of Judah Friedlander by leaving. Accommodations include living in a loft with stacked tree-house rooms with curtains instead of doors, but I always liked forts. I lost my phone, wallet and keys in Hollywood last month, and when I finally went to get a new phone this past weekend I instinctively picked out the one that came free with my plan. So I think I've finally honed my instincts to sense the cheapest means to any end.
SZ: Why do you take pictures?
MB: I've always been obsessed with and fascinated by nostalgia and the bittersweet, personal histories, memory, stories, fleeting moments, time, change and so on. I probably started taking pictures as a way to document fun experiences like camp and concerts, and then looking back on them I would be flooded by the memory of what that time felt like. Realizing the capacity of photos to preserve potent feelings and also being somewhat of a pack rat, I guess I take pictures to preserve the intangible things that I want to hold on to.
SZ: What music are you into lately?
MB: Oh god there's a lot. Silver Apples! I just found out about this band and I'm crazy about them. I downloaded a lot of Daniel Johnston recently. What's up with that guy? Awesome. Oh yeah I've been listening to a lot of 8-bit music like Random and Animal Style. Dan Deacon - Jimmy Joe Roche on repeat for as long as the people I'm around can stand it. Boredoms - Acid Police really loud. Notorious B.I.G. - Juicy at least once or twice daily. I can't get enough of The Cars. Panda Bear and Caribou are even better in the winter so I've been listening to them a lot recently. The Velvet Underground, Half Japanese, The Shaggs, Slick Rick, Mos Def. My all-time favorite is Paul Simon. And I'm still waiting for the new Animal Collective to leak.
New works in progress
SZ: What's coming up in 2009?
MB: Obama, and a weird feeling of optimism. Hopefully snow. New shoes. I have a show called HELLO BUSHWICK at AKA Potion Cafe at the McKibbin Lofts in Brooklyn. The opening is next Saturday, January 10th (7 - 9pm). I've been working on a series of new pieces about converging triangles (Venn-Diamond-Gram!), so those will be there along with some other work. I will also have a couple small pieces in the OCHO group show in Barcelona, which will go from March to May 2009, and there's a massive book as part of the same project that I will be featured in along with all the other participating artists. I'm beyond excited about that. That's all I can think of... oh yeah I've been doing drawings for the Newport Mercury and I'm still looking for a stupid part-time job. But hopefully I can just freelance a lot more.
View more of Morgan's work at MorganBlair.com, and if you're in NYC, go check out her show on Saturday.