Rebecca Morgan
TOH! Magazine Interview
01 When did your passion for drawing and painting begin?

I remember being very in tune visually all my life- sponging and contextualizing everything, paying attention to how things looked or moved and being inspired by images for as long as I am able to think back. My grandfather was self-taught and made really weird folk art drawings and cartoons. We would draw the same subject or a still life together. I was very young. In about 3rd grade I started taking private art lessons from a local artist, but I never really understood that I could be doing art in some way as a profession, like Al Jaffee or Harvey Kurtzman, who I was obsessed with from my Dad’s old MAD Magazines. I went to undergraduate to become a high school English teacher, taking art classes as I went and getting deeper and more serious about art making. I was introduced to John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage and they changed my life. Yuskavage was making paintings of bodacious, languid sex kittens that were strange and luscious and everything I ever wanted to make. I liked that Yuskavage and Currin were a little bad behavior, titillating and unlike anything I had ever seen before. I felt like I shared their sensibility; they bounce back and forth between cruel and tender. I had very little concept that contemporary art (and especially painting) could look like that or could be that. I never even knew anybody that was an artist. I was so inspired and voraciously devoured anything I could read and became totally immersed in fine art. I switched majors and went to Graduate school and never looked back.
 
02 Is there an artistic movement that you feel to belong to?

I feel very close to those that are draftsmen and the Old Masters, particularly of the Northern Renaissance and Flemish genre paintings of tavern heroes and low life scenes particularly, Frans Hals, Rubens, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and Adrien Brouwer, ect. I liked that the artists of the Northern Renaissance were celebrating aspects of every day life, commemorating the bourgeoisie and honoring the low and rural grit, which in a lot of ways, I am emulating. They embody a sense of movement, timelessness, weirdness, cheekiness or reverence that I hope to encapsulate in my own work. I am also very inspired by American folk art and outsider art, especially Pennsylvania Dutch crafts of hex signs and ceramics as well as early American ceramics and historical ephemera- sometimes I bring some of those elements to my own work. At the same time, Cartooning and the grotesque has always been profoundly important to me; Robert Crumb might be the highest god in my pantheon. Likewise, the “low art” of MAD Magazine (artists like Al Jaffee, Harvey Kurtzman, Don Martin, Jack Davis) was so deeply influential to me at a very young age. I studied every inch of the books and magazines which helped me understand humor and situations early on, which I think inspired me profoundly. I loved how they could present brutal satirical truth in content in a playful, sick or elegant way. I feel very close to Crumb in that he put his diaristic, self-loathing perverted personal imagery, expunging carnal indulgence and detailing his high, highs and low, lows in a lurid intimate account. Imagery coupled with formal execution—he is an incredible draftsman and makes great decisions. I am very attracted to both and have nestled myself between an old master touch with outsider sensibilities I hope!

 
03 You are using many techniques to create your art; oil, ink, graphite and colored pencils, you realize even ceramics. You are a 360 °artist . What is the technique that you feel most yours and why?

I feel that I identify mostly with drawing- that is the basis for all my work. All my paintings are realized out of drawings; I make a very elaborate and thorough graphite under drawing on smooth gessoed wood panel. I then paint over the graphite, but in thin layers with glaze so that the drawing is still visible; you are able to see the drawing underneath the painting, unless I build the paint up and cover it up. I love to be able to see the drawing working congruently with the paint; drawing is most important to me in all aspects of my work. The thing with painting is that it is so unbelievably formally difficult- it is wild and unruly, and I am always and forever learning from it. You learn how to paint with every painting- every time there is something that surprises you or you understand it better. I get better with every painting. I am very attracted to line quality in art, and believe that drawing is the foundation for all work. Once you understand how to capture 3 dimensionality with 2 dimensional methods, you can bend the framework and expand formally, use the language of drawing to get weird! Ceramics are the most fun, refreshing and loose to me right now. With the ceramic work that I am doing, it doesn’t have to be perfect, in fact, imperfections and dents are welcome with the sculptures and face jugs, so there is less pressure, unlike a painting or drawing that often has to capture a specific likeness or be convincing.
 
04 Some of your works are self-portraits, why your image is a source of inspiration for you?

There is the expression in art, to “paint or make what you know.” I know myself very well- in fact, I am hyper aware. I use myself as a diaristic model; I make cartoons about my emotional discomfort, or feeling trapped in-between the urban and rural, or self-loathing indifference or confidence. Illustrating scenes and scenarios of my life is intimate and vulnerable which to me, let’s me reclaim power and ownership of these hard or weird times or emotions I have. It is cathartic for me through humor. Embracing the discomfort, flaws and weirdness is a way to turn it into lightness- I think most people can identify with that and hopefully it makes other people relate and laugh at themselves (and me) through the work. I am endlessly fascinated by humans- good, bad or neutral and I am interested in how as individuals we navigate our lives so alone inside ourselves yet every second being involved and connected. This is why I am a figurative artist.
 
05 Your women have an aesthetic that is the opposite of what today's society imposes on us, yours are curvy women, hairy and full of blemishes, can you tell me why?

For me, the characters represent a real kind of blissful ignorance — they're totally happy living in the country and doing their own thing. They're totally fine with looking so hideous and awful, it’s of no consequence to them. It doesn’t matter- most of the time they are smiling away. In my mind, that gives them power- to be so confident and content, although covered in acne, wrinkles, and blemishes, is the ultimate love of one’s self and self-acceptance. As artists and as people, we're constantly in a cerebral, overthinking froth, and very often I just really wish I could indulge in this stereotype of absence. These characters are blissfully unaware, unruly, wild and untamed. They are off the grid and free, not affected by anyone or anything’s influence and I’m very attracted to that concept. All of the cartoons, even when they're not directly me are still me. I had huge bushy eyebrows when I was a tween and a faint mustache; it’s like a little homage to what made me, me and the awkward shit that ultimately made me stronger. Real life is messy and abject; not often is it slick, easy or aesthetically beautiful, but you have to look for it.
 
07 What eroticism means to you?

For me, I think eroticism is whatever is attractive to you about another person, situation or object. I am probably old fashioned, but I think flirting and going on a date can be erotic and kind of intoxicating; the thrill of just being onto something new and exciting. In a partner, I am attracted to humor and intelligence; that is more erotic that actual situations. I think eroticism means the part of someone or something that is indefinable, attraction to something you cannot help even though you shouldn’t. Giving into it. I am attracted to a little bit of bad behavior- eroticism for me is a little bit outside of socially acceptable, maybe drinking in the woods, or skinny dipping, but based in playful innocence. I think you can find eroticism in many places- unexpected twists in a piece of literature, a surprise, and in art, parts of a work that is intangible, otherworldly, black magic- the part of a painting that was pure alchemy and maybe an accident and you’re not sure how it came to be, but it is pure magic and hot- the kind of painting that you will be chasing for the rest of your life! Eroticism is maybe like that for me.
 
08 Sex in your work is very present, often with strong scenes strong enough, what do you want to communicate to your audience with your “porn” drawings?

I want to communicate the rawness of our everyday lives- the tender and maybe grotesque moments that are private made public. I deeply value brutal truths and being genuine; I think there is a real freedom when you expose what you are not “supposed to see” or what is “socially acceptable” and owning it and reclaiming it. I don’t feel as if the sexual acts I sometimes draw are pornographic- I think of them as consensual yet raw and often very sweet and tender. There is something comforting to me about an image of a bare ass and hairy legs tangled up together- a comfort that they are who they are, a comfort in their own bodies and giving into the moment. I am interested in “bad behavior” and giving into desire and Dionysian pursuits. I like the idea of these characters blissfully doing whatever they want as pleasure seeking wild men and women. I feel like I am a pleasure seeker in all arenas- food, relationships, humor, having a life of ease, things that cannot be a reality all of the time, but I fantasize of an unrealistic life of unrelenting pleasure- a utopia! The characters I make are often living in that environment.
 
09 You have received many awards, but how would you behave in front of negative criticism? Have you ever received one?

I receive negative criticism all the time! I am very thick skinned and always learn from it. In art academia and the art world we are surrounded by it- everyone assesses and critiques shows and artists- that is just the nature of the art world. Recently, I was featured on a pop culture news website and on the comments section on the Internet there were over two hundred comments and most of them negative. Most individuals felt as if I was making fun of rural individuals, making them simpleton idiots, but that is very far from the truth, as I am endlessly proud and inspired to have grown up in rural Pennsylvania. It is the worst when people don’t understand the intent, or mistake what you do for something else, but it is out of your control. There is a lot of learning to let go in Art. Although for me it has gotten easier, criticism is a very difficult thing to endure, specifically because as artists our lives are so personally intertwined with the work we do. It is like hanging a part of yourself on the wall for others to assess, whether the choices you made were valuable, a success or a failure or fraud. It helps to understand that art is so subjective to individual taste and therefore is difficult to measure, but there is always someone that isn’t going to like what you do and you have to be alright with that.
 
10 Nature in often present in your creations what relationship do you have with this element?

 I grew up in the mountains of central Pennsylvania, which is a somewhat remote, very rural, conservative place. I came back to live here after living in New York for a while after going to grad school and it is presently where my studio is. The work reflects that kind of liminal in-between space. When I'm here, I’m usually thinking about the city and what I am missing, but when I’m in the city for an extended time, I feel like I need to evacuate. In my work, I am trying to represent the discomfort of wanting both, as well as pride and this great reverence for the country that inspires me; I want to reflect both a constant critique and a defense of rural living. I’m interested in the comfort, the familiar, and also the repulsion that comes with the territory of home, and home is the rural woods of Pennsylvania. The most prominent themes in my work are those of the wilderness, redneck stereotype, continuous self portraiture/examination; I utilize the thicket of the woods as the place for this introspection, as it is traditionally conveyed as a place outside of social rules and standards. The woods suggest a coarse and hedonistic culture: it is the scene of bonfires, hunting, sex, drunken revelry, camaraderie, fights, and perversion. In rural western Pennsylvania, hunting camps are usually the setting for these scenes. I seek to express the wilderness as a place of refuge—a rebellion against privilege and high society. The symbolism of the woods for me, is a return to primitive and savage inclinations and a site that civilized people have long attempted to repress. I both refute and concur with the stereotypes of “country bumpkin” and “redneck,” as characterized by an idle, vacant and indulgent persona. I look to my pastoral origins, as I navigate my reverence and aversion to the place that has rejected yet charmed me. I operate in modes of frustration, cynicism and reclamation. One is caught in the intermediary zone of attraction and repulsion. My world resides somewhere between comfort and conflict.

11 You have been able to transform ugly in something appiling and fun how did you manage?

I often think that one of the most interesting things is to go the opposite direction from the expected outcome. I am a good draftsman and painter, which is the technical, lovely part, and most of the time, straightforward and easy to appreciate. The painting or drawing IS beautiful. However, when the content and scene of the work is repulsion, the viewer can get stuck in-between the admiration of technical prowess and the uncomfortable subject matter. As I’ve detailed before, I feel as if my primary emotion is frustration and existing in the liminal, the in-between of vastly different lifestyles, and this is one way that I can express that in my work. I am interested in the black and white, but mostly the in-between grey area where it can be both. I like making images that are emotionally complex. Maybe because that is a reflection of myself!
 
12 Where would you like to expose a day?

I often expose days doing nothing. I love doing nothing. When you do “nothing,” I think it is actually very productive; thinking about things, slowly pursuing things on television, books or the internet, taking a drive to nowhere specific- there is a lot to be learned from just from existing and not doing much. I like busy and productive days, too; the high of feeling accomplished for the day, or putting in a day’s hard work is also great. Some of my favorite ways of exposing a day is gallery hopping in New York and having a slice of pizza and a coke is a great day to me! I think almost any way to expose a day is a perfect way to experience a day.
 
13 Do you have any dream?
 My dream is to love and be loved - to be happy, healthy and to keep freely making, thinking and learning things!

14 what is your next project? 

I am coming off of a show from Spring 2014 and building a new body of work. I am very excited about some of the images and ideas; I am trying to get back to formal experimentation, as I feel like I have been somewhat formulaic in my approach to art making. I want to respond more innately and be more formally loose and take more risks outside of my comfort zone, which is very difficult for me, as my hand naturally wants to tighten things up and make things very specific. I am working on new ceramics- twists on some face jugs and sculptures of some of the characters I make in my two dimensional work.

15 Where can we see your work today?
Instagram is where I post daily cartoons and photos of things I am working on and things I am interested in. (shameless plug- rebeccamorgan10 is my username!) I am currently in a group exhibition, “Fetching Blemish” at Invisible-Exports in New York with some of my all time art heroes. I am represented by Asya Geisberg Gallery in New York and often show my work there. I am working on lots of brand new work- to be continued!




These articles can be accessed by this link on my artist page at Asya Geisberg Gallery

Alexander Mahany, “10 Cool Trends in Contemporary Ceramic Art,” ARTnews, June 9, 2014

Laura Hutson, A Q&A With Rebecca Morgan: Finding a Balance Between R. Crumb and Frans Hals. Nashville Scene Newspaper, May 2

Laura Hutson, A group exhibit at Coop exemplifies the art-world ideal of the New Nashville, Nashville Scene Newspaper, May 1

Paul Laster, Time Out New York, “Rebecca Morgan: No Church in the Wild”, March 15

Sharon Butler, Two Coats of Paint, review by Sharon Butler, March 24, 2014

Stephanie Buhmann, Chelsea Now, “Buhmann on Art”, March 12 2014

Juxtapoz Magazine, “Rebecca Morgan: No Church in the Wild @ Asya Geisberg Gallery”, March 13, 2014

Merrily Kerr, New York Art Tours, “Rebecca Morgan at Asya Geisberg Gallery”, March 1, 2014

Jennifer Eberhart, The Examiner, “Winter Gallery Focus: 2014”, February 27, 2014

Rebecca Smeyne, Paper Magazine, “The Armory Show’s Gritty Downtown Alter Ego.” March 6 2014

Renko Hauer. Lodown Magazine, "Work Hard, Play Hard", Issue 84, January 2013

Juxtapoz Magazine: Erotica, “Rebecca Morgan’s Bumpkins”, June 21, 2013

Mattera, Joanne. Joanne Mattera Art Blog, "Goddesses, Revolutionaries, Femmes Fatales, Wild Women, Bad Girls and Warriors", June 27, 2012.

McCombs, Emily. Bust Magazine, "Show and Tell: Artist Rebecca Morgan Draws us in", issue 65, October 2010.

Juxtapoz Magazine: Erotica, "Rebecca Morgan's Bumpkins", June 21, 2012.

Fallah, Amir H. Beautiful Decay, "Rebecca Morgan's Exotic Redneck Portraits & Stylized Peasants", June 18, 2012.

Butler, Sharon. Two Coats of Paint, "Quote of the Day: Rebecca Morgan", May 9, 2012.

Lomri, Dounia. NYARTS, "Peasants in the City: Rebecca Morgan at Asya Geisberg", May 3 2012.

Scheifele, Kris. Whitehot Magazine, "Rebecca Morgan at Asya Geisberg", May 2012.

Steadman, Ryan. Critical Mob, "Hillbillies Gone Wild: Cabin Fever", April 20, 2012.

Oates, Leah. NYARTS, "In Conversation: Leah Oates Interviews Rebecca Morgan", 2011

Valdez, Aldrin. Artslant, "Class Acts", March 31, 2011.