On the Sidewalk: An Interview With Morley

He’s not the typical Picasso or Matisse; he’s had his art and writing in galleries, but his pieces are a completely different style of their own. You probably won’t see his name in museums… you may, however, see it written on a wall in an abandoned lot, or projected upon a city skyscraper for a transient moment before it’s taken down, with no trace to be found of either him or his words. As if the artwork had never existed. 

When streetwalkers pass a Morley poster, they have two options: to look past it, or to digest what he’s said. And a lot of the time, what he says is pretty profound and philosophic; by combining his artwork with his own words, Morley’s street art holds a spotlight of its own that is unique in the world. And a lot of the time, we, as the viewers, can’t help but question who this guy is, or how fortunate he is to be filled with such wisdom and with life’s undeniable truths. The funny thing is, he’s just like us. And at Woken we are so thankful that Morley got to speak to us over email. 

The thing about street art that contains actual, thoughtful writing is that people can't just pass it by, maybe glancing at it once or twice. They (will usually) stop and read it, and continue to think about the piece as they walk away. What inspires the phrases that you write? 

Primarily I find it in my relationships with my friends and family. The struggles they face and the day-to-day observations I make about them. Of course, I try to draw from my own experiences as well. I think if I expect anyone to relate to something I've written, I would need to feel it comes from an honest place within myself.

What were you like as a teenager?  

I was stubborn and thought I knew it all. I had my whole life mapped out pretty young. It took my late teens and early twenties to discover how little I could control. Still, I’d like to think that I could be friends with the younger version of me.

As you became an artist, were you influenced by other styles of art that you might have seen before?

I am inspired by anyone with the courage to demand that their voice be heard- especially if they have something unique to say once they get your attention. I'm not too picky in where I find inspiration so I look everywhere. Poetry, books, theater, film, photography and of course, music- these are all great sources of inspiration and I find that the more varied your creative fuel is, the more varied the artistic expression it inspires will be.

I can’t help but notice that in some of your artwork you’re looking off into the distance, and in others you’re drawn painting the words themselves. I’ve always thought this was interesting. Is there any significance as to why, in your street art, your portrait changes? 

I try to have the drawing in the portrait have its own emotional response to the sentiment. If it’s meant to be sad, I wouldn’t want the drawing to be smiling, or if it’s supposed to a bit more of a tongue-in-cheek remark, I want the Morley drawing to reflect that. It’s one of the benefits to having a drawing of myself in each piece. The reason behind that was always to create a more intimate connection with the audience. I didn’t want the words to be coming from a brand or a symbol, I wanted them to be coming from a person. Someone you could form a bond with, a friendship. Since I myself am featured in each piece, I can portray my own personal expression in relation to the piece. I feel like it just furthers the bond between me and whomever runs across it on the street.

After a bad reaction to your art, what motivates you to get up and create another piece? 

Well- I wish I could say that one positive reaction erases the feeling of one negative one- but that’s not really true. I could get ten nice comments and one mean one will wipe them all out in my head. But I get the motivation out of knowing that my work might be helping and making some small difference. Will it leave a positive impact on everyone? Of course not. But when I shake off the feeling of rejection after someone draws on or rips down something I’ve done, I remember that I can only see that person who hated my work- I didn’t see the hundreds that walked past it whose day might have been a little brighter after reading it. I try to just hold on to that possibility.

Both money and success have ubiquitous influences on how people go about their lives. How do you separate yourself from this common mindset when you write or make art? 

I started doing my street work as a way to soothe the frustration I was feeling while trying to create a career in the arts. In a way, I often feel like it was the fact that I wasn't trying to make this a career that gave it a kind of purity that people responded to. I think if I had wanted to really try to make money off of my work I wouldn't give so much of it away to the streets. That said, as things have progressed with Morley, it's taken on a much more career-like trajectory than I had anticipated. Now seeing this as perhaps my legacy- I think I can only suggest that if people create their art out of love and avoid concerning themselves with how people will respond. It’s tough but I think that the less you worry about your work becoming just a product and “buying your own hype,” the longer lifespan your relevance as an artist will be.

What is the best advice you could give to people who are still growing up and figuring it all out? 

I would just say that the trick of life is staying true to the person you really are. I feel like we all spend so much time trying on different personalities in hopes of finding the one that we think everyone will like or be interested in. But if you just embrace the quirks that make you who you are, you’ll discover that you are exactly who you need to be in this moment. We grow, we change, we evolve but let it happen naturally and know that right now, you are good enough as is.

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What do you ultimately hope people take away from your art?

I hope that people get whatever they need from it. My work is primarily brief sentences- it requires people to bring their own life and apply it to the sentiment for it to mean anything. If someone can’t relate to it, then it’s just a few words on a wall. But if they see themselves in the idea I’ve put forward they can discover something that offers encouragement, hope, humor and perhaps even relief in the knowledge that they are not alone.

And lastly: what is your life slogan?

I read somewhere- I’m not sure where it was or who said it- but they said: “Failure isn’t that you didn’t succeed, but rather it’s succeeding in things that don’t matter.” That’s a pretty important message for me right now and something I’m going to try and hold tight to.