The first time I met Morgan was on a bus bound for the Bolivian capital, La Paz. That was 2016, a year when holidaying across the globe was encouraged. Things are a whole lot different now. 2020 will be remembered as the year spent at home.
Unlike those who have shapeshifted into couch potatoes or suddenly become dog owners, Morgan has taken full advantage of lockdown, diving back into her paints and pens. I say ‘back in’ as painting has been embedded in her family for quite some time.
“It’s the women in my family who carry the artistic gene. My grandmother was a painter, as are my mum and sister”.
Before a dogged determination to get into Oxford University stole her attention, a career in art was at the forefront of her mind. “It’s that crossroads hey. What could have been? That decision to sacrifice an assumed life trajectory for something you really love doing and think you do quite well at”.
University happened and suddenly Morgan hadn’t put a brush to canvas for close to five years. So when COVID struck, she decided to spend quarantine reteaching herself how to paint. This strange and prolonged time inside has once again seen Morgan rethink what she really wants to focus her energy on. As bleak as the pandemic has been, it’s situations where people have found motivation to pursue buried passions, that make you smile. Coined the ‘Quarantina Turner Prize’, this series is one of contrast, featuring candid portraits of her nearest and dearest spliced with erotic porn landscapes.
For Morgan, her process of art is all about flow, that state of being where you totally lose track of time. She describes it as a beautifully private space, where things seem automatic, almost as though the art is producing itself. It’s a visceral feeling she first experienced many years ago.
“I remember when painting as a child, I’d be wrapped up in this feeling and have no idea what it was…I’d be painting in the garden and hours would fly by”.
With all her friends cooped up indoors, Morgan’s recent portraiture attempts to capture emotions she feels are rarely explored in art, boredom and contentment. There is a sense of calm in the mundane, her friends sit watching Netflix, reading and even playing Nintendo Switch. It’s strangely peaceful, observing these people killing time. Amidst this socially distanced world, Morgan relied on Zoom to pull these off, asking her subjects to switch off their cameras whilst she went about her work.
It’s the 23rd of May, Katie sits on her bed bathed in sunshine, tapping away on her Nintendo Switch, engrossed in the world of Animal Crossing. Not that you can tell from the acrylics but isolation had really taken its toll. “She’d barely left the house…her body language was super guarded”.
This work is particularly special to Morgan, as the creative process birthed a safe place for her to comfort and connect with a friend in need. There’s a therapeutic element here, a level of warmth that really draws you in. Although she’s battling mentally, Katie’s absorbed in an open ended world where human villagers lead merry lives alongside talking animals. A cute escape and quite the contrast. No word of a lie, this period confined to our homes has been bizarre. As a human race, we’ve tried our darnedest to burn the clock of quarantine as quickly as possible. Through her portraiture, Morgan has gift wrapped these experiences through brush and paint.
“It’s genuinely beautiful looking through a virtual window into people’s homes, painting someone as if they’re totally alone”.
Once social distancing rules are relaxed, Morgan has an idea brewing for her next series of portraits. Identifying as queer, she has always wanted to immerse herself in the vibrant and thriving gay community in London. A community she still feels as though she hasn’t cracked yet. Having now been sober for two years, Morgan thinks a lot of this disconnectedness has to do with the fact that she no longer goes clubbing and she’s interested to find another way to connect. “The queer clubbing community in London is where a lot of family and friendship is made. I thought instead of that, I’d try reach out to people in a different way”.
Taking a leaf out of the cold call book, Morgan says she’ll be contacting people she’s never met before, from all walks of life, to see if they’d like to to be interviewed and painted. She takes confidence in this method of approach after the fantastic reaction she received from those she painted in the ‘Quarantina Turner Prize’.
“It was actually so lovely. I made a call out on Facebook and the response was overwhelming. You’ve just got to do it. Ask the question and see…” Morgan wants to delve deep into this group, asking how and where they’d like to be painted, what they’ll wear, all the while discovering who they really are. “I just want it to be a record of exploring this beautiful community, so full of diversity”.
Scattered amongst the paintings of her friends are some hyper-realistic self portraits. Morgan is fascinated in the sense of self and considers women self portraiture a genre of its own. “So much about being a woman, is centred on the conflict between how others see you and how you see yourself”. For Morgan, this exercise is freeing. It’s a delicate, psychological exploration into who she is. Interestingly, she has a theory as to why women have a fascination for self portraiture. “In the olden days, they were all banned from live drawing classes”, so in that case, your best live subject was you. Morgan is quick to recall Chantelle Joffe, an American born London based artist who painted herself almost everyday for a year! A challenging and trippy journey I imagine. Morgan also spills the beans on a nude self portrait coming soon, which may or may not feature her feline friend.
Porn. It’s a polarising, enigmatic and vastly misunderstood world. When asked about the inspiration behind her ‘Pornhub Landscapes’, Morgan’s initial answer is simple. “They started out from wanting to document the human body in movement”.
The portraits were static subjects, it was time to try painting people on the move. This series is meant to encourage a more free and instinctual approach. There was no decision making involved in what erotic scenes would be painted. In a world where taste and preference rule, it’s interesting to see Morgan throw all that out the window. Whatever appeared first was what made the cut.
“I’d literally visit Pornhub and play the latest video on the homepage. I’d pause the scene at different stages and paint over the top of whatever I’d already put down”.
As you’ll notice, the pieces are abstract, tinged with chaos and colour. A naughty blur of humans enjoying each others company. Take your time with these and steamy scenes will soon appear. Curious too about the textual aspect of these videos, Morgan has often scribbled the confronting titles into the works as well. “I’m not trying to be distasteful. I just want to note the language used…point out how we describe sex online. I’m trying to examine things, not pass judgement”.
Theoretically Morgan is pro porn. She speaks openly about the allure of the body and sex itself. In her eyes, anything consensual is fantastic and if you’re getting paid to do so, kudos to all. For her, the most important thing is workers rights and stamping out exploitation. When she starts commissioned work, Morgan plans to donate half of what she earns to a sex workers rights charity. “It’s fucked for them during lockdown…it’s not considered a legitimate form of employment and they’re not getting any government assistance. It’d be horrible”.
Respectfully, Morgan often worries that she too is adding another layer of exploitation, using these actors’ sensual experiences for her art. As she explains “I’m just extricating images of people having sex from behind my screen…they have no say in how I use their bodies”. It’s amazing to hear how switched on and in tune Morgan is with the work she’s creating. There’s a heightened awareness and reverence for those who are a part of what she puts down on the canvas.
Honest portraits of friends and raunchy scenes from Pornhub. Two very disparate subject matters. It was this stark comparison that attracted me to Morgan’s work in the first place. Before jumping on a call with her, I’d come up with a range of ideas as to why she chose to paint these two themes over quarantine. What’s beautifully motivating about this art series, is the inspiration stemmed from a young artist simply attempting to recapture her artistic prowess. The decision was pure and instinctual, just like that state of flow. This is where the power of Morgan’s art truly lies.
Studying Saul’s work there’s a playfulness and zest to every subject matter he tackles. In one piece, a painter whistles a merry tune as he heads off for a day on the job. In another, a jolly fruit vendor juggles oranges in a commissioned work for Atomic Beer.
What Kim puts down on paper is stunning, an unbridled depiction of sexual pleasure. Wielding an array of watercolours she brings raunchy and arousing scenes to life. In one work, women explore each other’s soaking bodies in the shower. In another, a man enters his partner as they writhe under the sheets.
The Australian artist (now based in Berlin) leans into the growing posthuman and ecocritical art movements which focus on decentering Human beings and reminding us of the interconnectedness of all life; fauna, flora and beyond. Sparked by her innate “curiosity about if and how other organisms think, feel and communicate”, Rofe uses her work to remind us we live in a “more-than-human world”.