Growing up in the mid-west, Morley’s exposure to ‘street art’ was limited to ‘you’re mom’s a slut’ jokes defiantly scrawled across school property during detentions. After moving to New York to study screenwriting and noticing Shepard Fairey’s “Andre the giant has a posse” stickers, Morley began screen printing his own slogans on stickers – little messages of hope which he stuck up around the city. When he relocated to Los Angeles he began printing these slogans on large posters, wheat-pasting his humorous insights and unique observations on life, offering the people of LA a respite from the corporate slogans and billboard advertisements covering the streets.
UCC: You started with stickers on the NYC subway. What motivated you to start doing this?
M: I moved to New York in the fall of 2000. I started putting up quotes and slogans roughly around then.Once I began noticing art on the streets of New York, it opened my eyes to the various ways that a person can really make his or her creative voice heard.
I had moved to New York to go to college where I studied as a screenwriter. With screenwriting, as with so many different mediums, is the layers of permission one must endure in order to reach an audience. So many people have to deem you qualified to even make something in the first place, let alone give you the opportunity to actually speak to an audience. Instead of trying to bring the audience to me, street art allowed me to bring my art to the audience.
The reason I started with stickers was that it felt like a relatively low risk adventure and I had been taking a silkscreen class where I would print my stickers on cheap sticky paper. At the time I had no idea how my little hobby would evolve.
UCC: What did the stickers look like? Were they similar to the slogans you use in your wheat pastes?
M: The stickers were pretty basic, just my own slogans, as well as a few quotes by artists that I admired.
I didn’t consider having a signature or identity to associate with it. I just stuck them around the city- mostly the subway. A few of the slogans I came up with at that time did actually carry over to the wheat paste era of my work.
UCC: Street Art has a long history of referencing the language and tools of advertising in order to subvert the nature of advertisements themselves. Do you see your work as a positive alternative to advertising, or as something separate, not really taking advertising into account?
M: I very much see my work as an alternative to advertising. For one thing, every advertisement you see on the street has an agenda; and that agenda is to convince you that you need whatever they are selling. Living in a city and being inundated with the ideas and images that a thrust onto you can really warp your idea of who you are, and what will actually make you happy.
I’m trying to add a positive voice that has no agenda beyond making your day just a little bit better. It’s my hope that I can make difference, even a small one to the people that stumble across something I’ve done while going about their day.
UCC: What influences the ‘slogans’ you choose?
M: My friends and family are my biggest inspirations outside of just my own struggles and frustrations. Thoughts that pop into my head can come from anywhere but I mainly try to imagine what people might need to hear and what would make a difference to me if I was walking down the street.
UCC: Your work has quite a distinct style – usually black and white, bold block text, an image of yourself, and your signature at the bottom. Did this develop over time, or did you employ this style from the beginning? What influenced you decisions to choose these elements?
M: To be totally honest, the reason that black and white is so prevalent is because the Xerox printers I use to blow my pieces up to the size I want to wheat paste them is black and white. But over time I embraced this because in Los Angeles, color is something that’s constantly slapping you in the face.
Advertisements and fashion are all about vibrant, eye-catching colors. The thing is, if everything is in a billion different colors, something black and white actually stands out. It pops because everything else is trying to hard to be noticed that monochromatic makes a bolder statement.
There’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere. Maybe something like “Sometimes being the only one that isn’t desperate to be noticed is what makes them pay attention.” Yeah, that works. See? I just came up with a new slogan! That’s where they come from.
(UCC: This quote was recently made into a poster! Check out Morleys Instagram account to check it out – link below )
M: For anything that is put up with out permission, I pretty much always work alone. I never wanted to put other people at risk of being arrested. Plus it’s a bit easier to move quickly when you’re not worrying about someone tagging along.
UCC: Do you have a specific message or purpose you want your art to serve?
M: I just want people to give themselves a break. I want them not be so hard on themselves. I want them to summon the strength within themselves to keep going, to make a change they need to make or to just accept the person they are now and not just the person who they hope to one day become.
UCC: “Everything is fair game once it hits the streets”. How do you feel about this? Do you get upset if your work is buffed or someone paints or tags over it?
M: I’m not very precious about my work and its longevity. I embrace the temporary nature of it. I’m okay with the city painting over my work, because it’s nothing personal- they are just doing their jobs.
Does it bug me when people who don’t like what I do mess with it? Sure. But I try to focus more on the people that may have found something useful in my sentiments, than focusing on the ones that are too cynical to see it as anything more than something that needs to be ridiculed.
UCC: Are you comfortable with the title ‘street artist’?
M: I’m more comfortable with “street artist” than “artist.” I still feel uncomfortable with the baggage that comes with calling yourself that. I feel like I came to street art as a writer and the title of “artist” is for people who can at least paint a bowl of fruit well.
UCC: Do you push yourself to produce work, or do you create work as it comes to you?
M: Once I started seeing that people were paying attention I felt the responsibility to push myself. It feels so foreign to have people that actually care about something I’ve worked to create that I don’t want to take it for granted. Plus I think the continued challenge to create and evolve artistically is what makes someone get better and I hope to always be getting better.
UCC: You have mentioned before that you think in the gallery atmosphere your work makes less sense. Do you still feel this way?
M: I do. That’s not to say that I shun galleries, I just think my work has more substance within the context of the street. I think this says more about my art (and maybe its limited monetary potential) than it does about galleries or the art inside them. Someone who just left the job they hate and wondering what they’re doing with their lives is the demographic that matters most to me. Those people don’t always make out to art openings, y’know?
UCC: Your work attracts people on quite a personal level. Any interesting stories that people have shared with you about the effect that your work has had on them?
M: I get a lot of mail from people who have told me that something I’ve done has a profound effect on them.
Some say it kept them from committing suicide. This type of response is so much more powerful for me than anything negative someone could tag on one of my posters. While I’d love to take full heroic credit, I think it just comes down to people needing to feel like they’re not alone – that there is at least one voice in this city knows what it’s like to feel lost or disappointed or broken.
I don’t think my words are so amazing well written that they saved anyone, I think it was the simple fact that I was there for them in the right moment. They gave those words a meaning and a significance that I never could on my own. I’m just happy to be part of that healing process.
UCC: What have you got planned for your work in the future? Anything exciting on the horizon we should be watching out for?
M: I am always trying to grow and evolve my work. I have a few fun things coming up. I like to do scavenger hunts every couple months and I have one of those coming up. Other than that, I’m still super proud of my recently published book “If You’re Reading This, There’s Still Time” which is available in book stores and online.