An interview with the B.C. artist by Daniela Herold
Morley Myers, as a self-taught sculptor, you have been working with stone since 1991. One of the most common purposes of sculpture in history was some form of association with religion, or an expression of politics. Why do you choose to create sculptures?
Morley Myers: I started sculpting as an unconscious attempt to explore my self. I hate to call it ‘art therapy’, but it does have that quality at times. What I do would be a combination of religion, and possibly gender politics as well as the broader form of community or national politics.
In your mid twenties, you were enrolled in the Humanities program working towards a degree in social studies.
Morley Myers: We all had to take classes in Ethics, Political Science, Sociology etc, and I chose to also do a class on Religion – is there a God or a proof of divine existence, that sort of thing. It all fed me well, giving me a lot of grist for what I have come to do later in life as an artist.
Over the years I have done bodies of work investigating my relationship with God or a spirit world. Another body was investigating the relationship of spirit and sexual identity, or the lack of. My ideas of what it means to be a man within the constraints of our culture, or my thoughts on this push to have our own children and what it might mean to be a woman or a man desiring to have children.
Human experiences as the basis of your work?
Morley Myers: Indeed. These explorations have helped me to get an understanding of some of the cultures that influenced me, for instance First Nations art from all around the world.
Do you find that the process of creating can be an end in itself?
Morley Myers: Absolutely. There is a joy that is difficult to explain, that you experience when you are in the groove. Once you have experienced this ‘bliss’, you tend to chase it. It is possibly one of the closest things to a spiritual experience I know. In a way, it has become an obsession for me – with the next piece being the cure.
When I had the opportunity to visit your studio, I had the impression that your work evolves from a direct encounter with the material itself. You told me that you often start with the fault line or some other perceived defect when creating a sculpture from a raw block of stone. Why?
Morley Myers: Yes, it is a questionable approach to engage the faults and then move with the dialogue from there. This approach is something I tend to do when I am stuck, when the flow has stopped or when I am forcing my will and it all grinds to a halt. At times I have taken a piece of stone and saw large cuts in it creating a challenge that helps move beyond the impasse. Similarly our relationships with others often are deepened when we experience the imperfections of ourselves or others, creating new directions and understanding.
Do you prefer subtractive carving techniques – when removing material from an existing block of stone or wood – or rather modelling techniques to shape or build up your art from the material of your choice?
Morley Myers: When I started sculpting, it was to some extent a reaction to what I was doing as a builder. I had been working for years as a carpenter and found little to no outlet for my own expression as I was building other people’s dreams. I also wanted to get away from the noise of the power tools that I was using all day long, so I started working with hand tools on soft stone, moving slowly and quietly towards my own inner vision.
I worked subtractively for sometime, then slowly introducing power tools as i began to see the images quicker and wanted to speed up the process – ironic, isn’t it? It took me about 10 years before I was comfortable enough to move onto modeling or additive work. Starting with foam and plaster, then moving into steel assembly work.
Does additive work feel different to you?
Morley Myers: There is a wonderful freedom with additive work. You can continue to work and rework the image, adding and or subtracting at will. This is very different to stone work where you can also rework a piece, but it will get smaller and smaller until you end up with a pile of dust.
Both techniques work for me at this point and I find myself comfortably moving between them.
For a sculptor, the classic materials with outstanding durability are usually metal, especially bronze, stone and pottery. What ways and materials do you seek to make art?
Morley Myers: I work in stone, foam, plaster, wood, steel and bronze. And as I mature, I see the possibilities of other materials or dimensions, having done a body of second work playing with colour and texture a few years ago. As an artist who is interested in exploring ideas you are not limited. We can go back to the likes of Picasso who did it all. He helped to set us free.
It has been said that ‘your work is meticulously composed, but open’. How would you describe your style?
Morley Myers: Interesting – I find this description both flattering and mildly confusing. I personally would describe my style as direct and strong, almost a 3D form of drawing.
What I do is definitely meticulous as I come from a line of perfectionists. So when we set ourselves to a task, we look closely at the details. I have a difficult time with ‘wishy-washy art’ – by that I mean art that doesn’t say anything or is too soft and round. I like sharp lines and clean intersecting planes.
As far as the statement goes that my work is trying to project – I like that to be clear, however this is where the “open” part might come into play. Since my statements tend to be about our human experience, each viewer will respond to it with mild to massive shades of difference.
When I travelled through the Netherlands last year, I visited the sculpture garden of the Kroeller-Mueller Museum in Otterlo, which opened in 1961, and has since become one of the most renowned in the world. Situated on carefully chosen spots on 25 hectares of woodland, sculptures ranging from work by Rodin to that of contemporary sculptors can be enjoyed by visitors. Where in North-America, do you think, come visual art, nature, architecture and garden design together in perfect harmony?
Morley Myers: I can’t come up with one place that is the ultimate, rather many possibilities. I am a country rat by nature and have never been overly comfortable in large cities, so my preference would be something in nature, preferably something here on the west coast.
I have seen wonderful sculpture ‘gardens’ in city landscapes as well in the country, above ground and below water. I do not think it has to be limited to one place or type of environment, be that urban or rural. But there needs to be an openness to the experience, to both the art and place.
Your career is long and eventful – what influenced your evolution as a sculptor?
Morley Myers: Living within a community of artists here on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, has had a large impact on what I do and who I have become as an artist.
– Firstly, when the mystery of being an artist was dissolved, closing the gap between artist and mortal.
– The opportunity to see things differently and to start engaging within the creative process with endless encouragement. From here the art world started to open to me and fearlessly I stumbled into it (and for the most part continue to).
– Meeting new artists who point me in different directions, giving me new views of the world and other voices to investigate.
Within this ‘one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-approach’ there have been satori moments, awakening moments. Like the ‘Aha-effect’ when something becomes clear. For instance when a friend invited me to watch a movie showing Picasso in motion and I was watching Picasso’s creative process flowing through many possibilities until there was this sense of completion. This is the moment of freedom I spoke of earlier.
“Our relationships with others are often deepened when we experience the imperfections of ourselves or others, creating new directions and understanding.” Morley Myers
Who of the following artists has inspired you and why? Barbara Hepworth, Picasso, Henry Moore, Jean Arp, Marta Pan, Constantin Brâncuși or Henri Gaudier-Brzeska.
Morley Myers: Of these artists, my primary influences are Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Picasso and Constantine Brancusi.
It is hard for me to separate Hepworth and Moore as their work was very similar on many aspects, eg their explorations of space or void, or the same sense of flow and statement. Their work gave me an understanding of negative space or void.
Picasso demonstrates the freedom to explore dimensions and materials, the easy flow from 2D to 3D and back again, often within the same piece of work.
Brancusi is the start of the language all the moderns base their work on. His break from Rodin and access to the influences that were coming out of Africa at that time were the start of the language that my work is based on.
How do you see and understand public space and the role of art in public space?
Morley Myers: I think that public spaces can do many things. They can open our eyes to different ways of seeing the world and our place within it. Don’t they represent a chance to explore ourselves and others through many forms of art? As they provide a space for artists to realize their visions, they give space to their voices. Public spaces also create an opportunity for us to experience beauty for its own sake or give a visual voice to the injustices that surround us.
These parks can also reintroduce us to the natural world that we are apart of or re-frame our urban environments so that they are no longer just a place of survival or opportunities to merchandise. We can regain a sense of who we are as a species in relation to our environment. They can create an opportunity for profound change or simply function as a great place for family picnicking.
How do you deal with issues surrounding your art involving interior and exterior, solid and void, time and space, weight and weightlessness?
Morley Myers: I don’t give much conscious thought to these issues, I rather feel or intuit. It is similar to knowing when you are finished with a piece – there is a sense of completion, a feeling similar to a satori moment. A recognition from within.
What are you currently working on?
Morley Myers: At the moment I am looking at the next phase of my career as I am soon to be 60 years old and looking at who I am or becoming.
I am experiencing big life changes. My father, 90, is in the throws of Alzheimer’s and will soon be gone. This is a big moment in our lives, the loss of a parent, which forces deep reflection. It is in a way bringing me closer to my family, giving me a sense of continuity as I experience or visualize my father throughout the time frame that I have memories of him. I have been very unsettled by this experience as this last part is bringing my own demise well within view. I have a keen sense of how much time I have left, wondering what I will do with it.
I also have a much better understanding of my connection to all things at this point in my life. A wonderful place to be as it provides an endless realm of possibilities to create from.
Daniela Herold: Morley Myers, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with my readers.
Morley Myers was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1956, and grew up primarily in the Medicine Hat region. A self taught sculptor, Morley has been working with stone since 1991 and has been involved in exhibits on the west coast and has displayed in galleries in New York, Vancouver, Victoria, Tofino, Salt Spring Island, Calgary, Winnipeg and Medicine Hat.
CONTACT: Studio – Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment.
128 Graham Drive, Salt Spring Island, Canada. V8K 1J5
Credits / photographs copyright: David Borrowman