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Wednesday 27 May 2020

In conversation with Jeremy Morgan

In this interview with artists from our Beyond the Frame exhibition, we speak with Oxfordshire based artist Jeremy Morgan. We ask painter, printmaker and graphic designer Jeremy about his route to where he is now artistically;

“I think something in the need to arrange a slightly ‘chaotic’ environment into an ‘ordered’ artistic response actually drives my practice…my paintings are often ‘mini battles’ of jostling elements fighting for dominance and I think that kind of reflects some of my working environment!”

Artist, Jeremy Morgan

Hello Jeremy, could you say a little bit about yourself and what or who got you into art and what were your influences back then? 

I remember as a child going with my parents to the Hayward to see Dada and Surrealism Reviewed at the tail-end of the 70s – the imagery was so accessible and yet so weird and warped at the same time…thrilling for a 10 year old! I was also quite taken by Yves Tanguy’s crazy proto-punk haircut! 

As must be the case for many youngsters, the allure of Pop Art was also very important – I was obsessed with the colour combination of purple and lime green and would fill sketchbooks with Pop-Art style cartoons of slime and worms in these colours! I should explain that this was a popular kid’s ‘toy’ at the time! The queasy imagery was important, but I now realise that I was also learning, in my own peculiar way, about colour theory. A slimy purple background with lime green worms really ‘popped’ – but other combinations didn’t. I think it was the beginning of an interest in the contest between colours which I really enjoy refereeing within my work today. I’m naturally attracted to ever-so-slightly inappropriate or ‘louche’ colour combinations and enjoy fine-tuning these to remain interesting and open to possibilities – close to clashing, yet remaining just this side of ‘viable’. 

One book on my parents shelf which made an impression was Rock Dreams featuring the imagined, fantastical illustrations of rock stars by Guy Peellaert (who also painted the cover of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs LP). The blend of pop iconography, mythology, art and illustration within the book probably influenced me in not demarcating too strictly between ‘art’ and ‘design’. Indeed following my Foundation course I did a degree in graphic design and have worked as a graphic designer alongside my painting practice, since then. I’ll readily blend visual elements influenced by the worlds of architecture, technology or design into my abstract work – and I suspect that Peellart’s curious, wonderful book has played a part in that. 

Jeremy at work in his studio

Live music appears to be a very important thing in your life. Has a particular taste in music affected how you design and paint?  

Music certainly has been interwoven into my artistic output from an early age. From about 15 to 19 I played drums in various noisy punk and garage bands, and as the ‘arty one’ it fell to me to design the flyers, cassette demo covers and fanzines, a task which I really enjoyed. Though I was not aware of his name at the time, I was certainly channeling some of Raymond Pettibon’s stark pen and ink artwork for Black Flag and Sonic Youth into my juvenile oeuvre, and indeed saw both bands live in the 1980s (Iggy Pop joining the latter onstage – a memorable gig!!). 

Do you listen to music while you work or do you keep the two things apart?  

Perhaps surprisingly my preference tends to be for a non-musical background when working – I think it’s because I’m dealing with words and typography on-screen in my design work, or with my own notations and developing concepts when painting, so an additional musical voice for me to process can slow me down. There’s also maybe a sense that the work of making a painting or undertaking a design project ought not to be so leisurely that it can be readily done with a musical accompaniment…though whilst undertaking more repetitive tasks I’ll stick some sounds on. But don’t worry…I’m not nearly as austere as I’m starting to sound, when I’m out of the studio! 

Stacker Triptych - Jeremy Morgan

I would always associate a clean line with a more electronic sound, would you say that is the case with you (I’m thinking Kraftwerk and Moog synths)?  

You’ve put your finger on something there regarding the clean line and electro sound connection…. I’m definitely trying to achieve some kind of equivalence with the ‘techno-culture’ in which we all are living – though I’m also thinking about older technology and ‘lo-fi’ games like Space Invaders, balancing the promise of new innovation with concerns on the blunted emotional intelligence inherent in the developing field of artificial intelligence. Sometimes my paintings simply end as paintings – any vestigial link to a particular theme becoming bleached-out during their making by formal concerns of colour and composition. 

Slapstick and comedy are quite important too! The tiny dots balancing on or rolling down off-set rhomboids, and slim lines which appear to have been leaned in a slap-dash way against larger shapes (as if by negligent construction workers) form part of my visual language, and, I hope, add an element of fun and narrative to the work. 

I like that my response to the contemporary world is, perhaps perversely, rendered through one of the world’s oldest technologies – paint. A kind of slowing down and scrutinizing of fast-paced technological activity which is only achievable through the ancient process of applying pigment to a substrate. 

What or who would you say is your inspiration today and how is this changing your process, style or subject matter? 

It seems odd to describe the COVID 19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown as ‘inspiring’, yet it will undoubtedly have a profound effect on my thinking and work. 

I have been developing the idea of a ‘Creole’ of visual languages – expanding my practice to incorporate different applications of paint, including a more obviously painted surface than the flat ‘industrial’ surface I often deploy. Into this work I have been introducing organic, floral elements, suggestive of nature’s resilience, in spite of humankind’s abuse, which act as a visual foil to the geometric forms below. I think the term ‘Creole’ has a resonance – the blended spoken languages developing out of the legacy of colonialism feel kindred to the theme of nature being injured and altered, yet finding a way to reconstitute itself. The effect of COVID 19 on the narrative of this interplay between humankind and nature is unfolding globally, and is certainly present within my current work. 

View from Richmond Hill with Wick on the left 1837, George Hilditch

Finally, why did you choose George Hilditch’s, View from Richmond Hill with The Wick on the left, 1837 from the Borough Collection for your piece, The Wick (Hide and Seek) in our current Beyond the Frame exhibition? 

For reasons of nostalgia really – as a child I spent a day at The Wick (a large Georgian house on Richmond Hill) with my parents and some of their friends who were friends with the owners at the time – this was between Ronnie Wood and Pete Townsend’s tenures at the house. It was a fun day! The Exhibition premise provided a great opportunity to create a narrative between Hilditch’s exterior viewpoint and my abstracted view inside of the building. I was interested in how a building’s use and the activities of those who dwell within it, changes over time, yet the exterior remains unchanged, masking the stories within. It seems curious that the stately home painted by Hilditch in the year Queen Victoria ascended to the throne should also be the setting for a jam session which produced The Rolling Stones song ‘It’s Only Rock n’ Roll (But I like it)’. 

The Wick (Hide and Seek)

The Wick (Hide and Seek) is a painting using acrylic and glitter powder on board by Jeremy Morgan for the Beyond the Frame exhibition. Find out more about Jeremy’s ideas for the piece in his original Artist Statement below.

The Wick (Hide and Seek), 2020

My response to Hilditch’s painting is inspired by a childhood visit to The Wick in the late 1970s with family and friends. The enormous Georgian house with its basement recording studio, corridors, snooker room and terraced garden became an incredible playground for my sister and myself on that one day. The platinum and gold discs which were mounted throughout the house – celebrating the achievements of The Wick’s illustrious music industry occupants – were particularly fascinating to our young magpie sensibilities. Later I learned more of the history of the house – including of it being home to Sir John Mills and family, inspiration for Mary Hayley Bell’s “Whistle Down the Wind”, and of the musical jam session held there between Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and David Bowie from which the Rolling Stones song “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” emerged. 

Hilditch painted his work in 1837 – the first year of Queen Victoria’s reign. The work shows a relaxed pastural scene, albeit one painted towards the end of the industrial revolution, whereas my response is painted in a post-industrial world in the midst of both a digital revolution and of an environmental crisis. Yet my inspiration is based on events occurring over forty years ago, in a pre-digital era, creating a discordant splicing of time and culture spanning over 180 years. I was interested in how the outside of buildings hide the changes in use and culture of their inhabitants. My response can be read as an interior, in dialogue with Hilditch’s exterior view, with the four floors of the house interpreted through the stacked panels on which my work is painted. Coloured discs within the work recall the clothes worn by some of the well-to-do Victorians in Hilditch’s painting, and might act as stand-ins for figures amongst the jostling elements which express something of the rock ’n’ roll history of the house.

You can see more examples of Jeremy Morgan’s painting, drawing and photography on his Instagram site.

You can also view the entire Richmond Borough Collection online, at the Collection link on our main navigation bar, or by clicking here.