Now Featuring Morgan Blair

New York artist and designer Morgan Blair’s work is always dazzling: whether in outrageous color or in black and white, her intense patterns are meticulous, graceful and a little bit strange.  Referencing everything from Easter candy to classical nautical flags, Blair’s images fold together complex layers of nostalgia, inventiveness and humor.

Exclusive Print, Chart

Exclusive Print, Platter

Exclusive Print, Zigs

Exclusive Print, Map

Exclusive Print, Fair

Exclusive Print, Blanket

Exclusive Print, Ocean

MH: How did you get started with pattern? It’s clear that you’re a little obsessed, which is great. Is it something that’s part of your personality, to be meticulous and complicated, or something that you save for studio?

MB: It’s weird, I’ve thought about this a lot in trying to figure out what my work is about and why I feel compelled to do the things I do. The obsession with pattern is definitely a deep-rooted part of my personality, influenced in large part by family tradition. For as long as I’ve known him, my grandfather on my mom’s side has made these insane jigsaw puzzles with all unique and intricately cut pieces. He gets the images from calendars and postcards and posters, and there are stacks and stacks of them in his cupboards, and my mom’s. I grew up doing these puzzles constantly, whenever we got together. To this day it’s a house rule that no one can look at a picture of the assembled puzzle, so we work from shape and color alone. You start to see pattern in everything that way. Probably my obsession revolves around that meditative challenge of assembling pattern and the satisfaction of viewing it whole. As a kid I immersed myself in all kinds of other stuff that was pattern-based, too: Legos; Magic Eye; computer games like Oxyd, Glider, Diamonds, and Tetris; Lite-Bright; “pattern blocks” that my mom had in her classroom; those iron-together plastic beads. Not having any brother or sisters I spent a lot of time in my own head. I never got bored because patterns go on and on.

Pool

At the same time I feel like this could be a weakness. I think a deep-rooted obsession with pattern could be accompanied by or equated with a deep-rooted fear of change, or risk. Patterns are comforting and safe; you can always be sure of what will happen next. Straying from a pattern forces you to think, and creates the possibility of failure or conflict. I worry that I rely on pattern as an escape from the anxieties of life where everything is not so predictable, and that this makes my work superficial. So, I’m always trying to challenge myself within the patterns I make, and create opportunities to improvise. And eventually I want to start making puzzles.

ASC

MH: Where do you get your color inspiration?  I enjoy how your work demonstrates optical lessons one could learn from Josef Albers or Briget Riley, but there is a frenetic, pop-cultural edge skewing it somehow.

MB: Easter candy really made an impression on me when I was a kid. Bright pastels with speckles. I guess I’m really just talking about those malted eggs, though this past spring I discovered this marshmallow rope thing that they sell now, which is so rad looking. It’s just three different colored pastel strands of marshmallow twisted into a rope. I want to make a real rope modeled after it. Typical pastel Easter colors also seem to be used a lot in certain fashions from the 80s and 90s. In general I am heavily inspired by thrift store gear from decades past. They really get right to the point, you know? Pure pleasure. Shapes and bright colors. Squiggles. Speckles. Fades.

Since we tend to gravitate towards contrast, I like the challenge of limiting my palette to all pastel and low-contrast colors, though sometimes I cheat with neons. I’ve been trying not to use black and colors together in the same piece, but obviously it’s satisfying how it pops. I always feel kind of guilty and dirty about it. I prefer the psychedelic effect when colors of the same value start to vibrate against each other. There is this one electric pastel teal I can’t get enough of. Like a toothpaste color. On the other hand, there’s one specific dark fuchsia that I remember seeing as a kid – it was right up against some dark turquoise and they were part of an emblem on my shoe. Looking at them sitting there together made me feel sort of sick to my stomach.

Pants

MH: Can you talk about the flags series that makes up your exclusive LPP prints? The work is very restrained but also velvety and complex; they’re definitely in line with challenging our attraction to contrast, and also, I’d say, intelligibility. They seem very much like they illustrate a language or a system, like semaphore flags do, but one that might be, like the puzzles you’ve mentioned, only accessible to us in visual snippets.

MB: I never thought twice about flags until my boyfriend got a “flags of the world” poster from a yard sale. All of sudden they were exciting as simple, abstract compositions of pattern, shape and color. Down the road, a friend asked me to design some wallpaper for a bar he was opening. The project never came to fruition, but I had one sketch with little flag-like shapes in a staggered grid pattern that I kind of liked. I started another similar drawing, liking the idea of “invented flags.” Then, a big turning point came when I found this Bugle Boy t-shirt with speckle-fade stripes. In the same way that the poster made me remember flags, this shirt made me remember gradients. All my work up until that point had been made up of flat planes of color. The next flag drawing I did had some gradients mixed in with the flat tonal rectangles, and the rest have been made up of almost all gradients. I’m sort of imagining that they are proposals for real flags. New, modern flags.

Puerto Rico

Introducing gradients and contrast but limiting myself to grayscale has been liberating in that I can think more clearly within those specific parameters. The flags don’t mean anything – I’ve just been seeing how many I can come up with. The idea of making “potential” or “invented” objects came from a period when I was trying to figure out how to get more mural and wall-painting projects. I did those shit-housed paintings as exaggerated examples of how I would paint a real house. It’s weird to think that the idea of making whatever I want so I can get hired to do whatever I want evolved into me making paintings of objects from this hypothetical world in which I’ve been allowed to cover everything in Easter colors and patterns and gradients. I’m drawn to simple/timeless/utilitarian objects like flags, bricks, chains and rope because they become mysterious when taken out of context. With every piece I’m trying to find a middle ground between abstraction and narrative, so I like these objects also because they tend to work in both directions, as well as blurring the line between future and past. That is as much as I’ve figured out.

THIS IS IT, DON'T GET SCARED NOW

MH: Can you talk about your titles, and humor in your work? The Notorious RBG made me laugh out loud, and the Shit House drawings did too.

MB: I think this is a compulsion I picked up from my dad, needing to find a joke in everything. I never want any piece I make to feel one-dimensionally serious. Actually, maybe it’s the other way around – a sincere interest in making art about jokes. Lately I feel like I’m thinking more in those terms. Making serious art about ying-yangs. A large, formal sculpture of a Dorito. I feel like my work needs to be an honest reflection of the shit I think about. Once in a while an anxiety-ridden ball of nerves slips in there.

Pizza

MH: You live and work in New York and you went to RISD.  Where you influenced by (and part of) the art and music scene in Providence that included Lightning Bolt, Jim Drain, etc.?

MB: They were before my time, but I love their work and I love Lightning Bolt. Somehow I missed seeing them play in Providence, which sucks. If I could do it again I would be less in my own little bubble. I feel like the first time I came across Brian Chippendale’s work was in the Brown bookstore, which is sort of embarrassing, somehow. I was killing time waiting for some film to get developed at CVS and I saw this little book with crazy colors all over it. Actually, I’m remembering now that I went to the opening for Wunderground at the RISD museum, which was unreal. I remember being sort of in awe at the sheer density of color. That was inspiring, realizing that people were actually making stuff like that, but I don’t think I knew what it was about or what I was looking at.

Sketchbook

MH: I also saw the Wunderground show and had a similar reaction. I was overwhelmed with information, except to maybe the room full of forts and sculpture, which seemed very much to be about the way art can make a space for people, and that people can invent the art that carves out the space they need if it doesn’t exist already.  Do you feel that way about making work at all? I ask in part because you’ve got such a wide range of work, work that can insinuate itself into different parts of experience, as a shirt or as a print on the wall or both.

MB: To be honest my memory of the show is pretty hazy, except for that feeling of entering one of the fort/sculptures and realizing you could make a space that would create such a specific, dense sensory experience for yourself and all those who enter. Mainly it made me think about and obsess over the idea of covering the walls and ceiling of a room with some dense series of patterns, to a dizzying effect. In that way I guess that experience introduced me to the notion of creating the imagery, or object, or product that you wish existed.

Secret Stash, Museums Press

MH: I’m always curious how designer-artists think about the continuum of their “personal” and commissioned work.  How do you do it?  Even your commercial work looks like a ton of fun, including t-shirts, record covers and skate decks.

MB: My goal is for everything to look like I did it for fun. If it doesn’t look like that or it wasn’t fun, I consider it sort of a failure. I put a lot of faith in this theory that if I find a way to do whatever I want for every project I work on, and people see it and like it, then I will be paid to do whatever I want again.

It’s nice to have guidelines with commissioned work, but I can get caught up worrying about what I “should” do, rather than what I “would” do if it were just me doing whatever. Like, maybe they won’t like it if it’s too weird and I’ll have to re-do it, which has happened before and it’s really vexing. With editorial work the art director always seems to want the final piece to look exactly like the sketch they approved, which I hate. So I get way too stressed out and uptight thinking about how I can have fun and make a satisfying piece without improvising. In that case I try to trick myself back into thinking it’s just something I’m doing for fun.

Rhythm Snowboards

T-shirts and skate decks and stuff like that are a lot easier because they usually don’t need to communicate any specific concept, and can be more freeform and abstract. But, if there are no guidelines I sometimes get bogged down trying to narrow down all the possibilities and focus on one idea. In general I try to think in terms of imagery I would want to wear/ride/etc. I imagine this scenario where I’m rooting through Salvation Army and all of a sudden I see this t-shirt or skateboard or record or whatever it is, and my eyes pop out of my skull because it’s just like the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever seen and I couldn’t have even imagined that something so unapologetically rad ever existed. Then I think, “What would that thing look like?” Then I think about it in the context in which it will be seen out in the world and consider if it will still look cool. I want the people who buy the thing to constantly be asked where they got it. That’s how I approached these snowboard graphics that I made for Rhythm Snowboards. Basically I want to recreate for other people the feeling I had the first time I saw the cover of Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, a True Star, which is “that is rad and I have to have that.”

Puzzle

MH: It’s interesting that that you feel like pattern is the most self-indulgent part of your work, where I’d say that from the way you talk about it (and Easter candy), maybe color is.  This isn’t to say that color shouldn’t be totally over the top and even nauseating… I think that’s one of its best powers.  But it makes me curious how you feel about the magnetism of artwork, whether you want to make work that seduces a viewer as strongly as the Todd Rundgren cover you talked about, or work that is compelling but a little queasy.

MB: I’m torn about this. Artists I admire fall all across the spectrum, from minimal and restrained and subtle to balls-to-the-wall seizure-inducing pandemonium. I can’t choose. I’m still trying to develop a consistent language for myself that achieves a balance of both. I’m in awe of artists my age making exciting, challenging work who seem confident and focussed in its direction, aesthetically and/or conceptually. In general, I’m in awe of anyone not plagued with self-doubt. There are days when I feel like a total imposter. Sometimes I think I should just go back and work on a farm. But then as I’m imagining that scenario, I’m like “Oh yeah and then I could build a big pastel-brick pyramid in the middle of a field!” So, I’m not sure how all this will resolve itself.

Pattern Blocks

4 comments

1 JessicaNo Gravatar { 12.09.11 at 9:29 pm }

I love how the exclusive print designs are both very soft and sharp at the same time…beautiful!

2 Kelly JonesNo Gravatar { 12.12.11 at 6:55 pm }

yeah I agree, I am in love with them!

3 We Celebrate: 2012 + Morgan Blair | We Celebrate { 02.06.12 at 5:05 pm }

[...] blog.littlepaperplanes.com 2012acrylic paintingbrooklynMorgan BlairNew Yearnew yorkWe Celebrate ? We celebrate things [...]

4 MORGAN BLAIR | v-e-l-l-u-m { 07.01.12 at 4:26 am }

[...] of this, Morgan recently told Little Paper Planes: “I THINK A DEEP-ROOTED OBSESSION WITH PATTERN COULD BE ACCOMPANIED BY OR EQUATED WITH A [...]

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