Intuition, Experience and Blind Faith: Morley Myers and Clem Crosby collaborate for the first time to make sculpture

Being an artist can sometimes be an isolating experience. Even though some say that collaboration means giving up your individuality, I believe in the power of collaboration. Having a team of people united in one effort can bring about amazing results. “A partner’s different perspective is valuable’, Astronaut Ron Garan once said, ‘but the very fact that it is different means that it will require work, humility, time, and resources to incorporate that perspective. At times, this will require checking one’s pride at the door.”

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When I ran into sculptor Morley Myers a few weeks ago, he introduced me to his friend Clem Crosby. The London-based painter, whose art has been exhibited at the Tate Modern and the UC Berkeley Art Museum – to name but a few – is working at the radical center of a growing circle of painters who accept the accumulated legacy of art history and contemporary culture in their work, but ‘without any traces of the irony that characterized a generation of appropriation’. (1)

‘Are you working on a project together?’ I asked.

‘Yes, we’re working with raw emotions’, Morley said.

‘Rather than calling it ‘raw emotions’ I prefer to call it intuition’, Clem added.

Morley and Clem – who grew up on the same small base in Suffield, Alberta, where their fathers were posted with the Canadian Forces and British Forces in the Seventies – decided to spend 10 days focusing on a collaborative project at Myer’s home on Salt Spring Island after having talked about it for years.

‘Clem’s approach to creating art is very different to mine’, Morley Myers says, ‘which is why I was very interested in seeing this process at work.’ Clem, in turn, was very receptive to the idea of creating sculptures as he had done little 3D work up until this point.

Morley, can you tell us more about your artistic collaboration with Clem? 

Morley: Clem’s approach is much looser than mine. He is constantly looking to turn convention on its head. For instance I would be setting up a starting point – usually involving a recognizable figure – and then Clem would start to deconstruct the piece.

We used a lot of foam for the armatures and built upon that with plaster, cloth and sticks. It had a sense of fort building, the stuff I did when I was a boy. We basically used what we had on hand, and then let ‘it’ happen.

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Clem, you have never made sculpture before. Can you tell us more about your artistic collaboration with Morley? 

Clem: I have been painting for over 25 years so I guess it’s important to recognize the experience an artist accumulates from making something from nearly nothing. But let me start by saying that being on an island – Salt Spring Island – is both a blessing and a possible hindrance. The place is ridiculously beautiful so in my mind there is little point in trying to record nature through paint or otherwise – it already exists. Secondly, I was away from any distraction and overt criticism so I felt a certain liberty to fail, make mistakes and have fun making a mess with a good old pal and super artist Morley Myers.

We decided pretty much immediately that we would try and keep it loose, not get too technical – lucky for me! We literally grabbed some paper towels a couple of bags of quick drying plaster (important because less time to pontificate) from Morley’s studio and twigs and sticks from the yard.

The first pieces were modest in size, neither abstract nor representational although they did have an anthropomorphic quality. Morley would slap the plaster on an armature fashioned out of styrofoam and twigs then I would step in and do the same.

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Only when we decided to push the scale did Morley’s preference for the figure become apparent. He would start by carving in to the foam and i would do my best to undermine the emerging form by skewering the foam with sticks and having Morley’s outline disrupted only for him to then start again.

Sounds like the actual figure is not necessary for Clem?

Morley: That’s right. He is just interested in raw emotion and has a way of expressing that in the true abstract.

Clem: I prefer to call it both intuition and experience. I think ‘raw emotion’ makes the way I work sound like it’s coming from nowhere, I prefer to call it a mix of intuition and experience. Also, I wouldn’t say that my painting is truly abstract in the concrete sense of the term, for example, it’s not just about the materials I use.

I read that Clem Crosby works in relentless cycles of revision, corrective erasure, and overlay, ‘mixing topical concerns with reference to the past as seamlessly as he mixes colour and drawing’. The resulting paintings have been described as ‘at once emotional and yet rigorously intellectual, improvised and yet painstakingly considered’. What theme did you choose for your sculpting project and why? 

Morley: If there was a theme, then it was to disregard how we had been working up until this point. The project was mostly an exercise for both of us – an exercise for me to loosen up, and an introduction for Clem to sculpt with real hands on.

Clem: I think it helps if you know your collaborator because you have to be able to let go of preconceptions. In London, I never have anyone near my studio when I am painting so I knew this would be difficult enough.

The maddening thing about Morley is that he is so talented, he fixes old bikes and cars, he’s always known about nature and incredibly informed about almost anything, he’s the most self deprecating fellow I know and he makes amazing work. There is no doubt that if he were living in London he would be showing! And he’s as funny as hell so I knew it would be a great, creative atmosphere. At the very least if it didn’t work we could throw it all away and have some beers.

We added plaster, wrapped the paper around the styrofoam, pushed in the sticks, cut the foam, pulled out the sticks, added more plaster….and on it went, trying not to make ‘art’ but to go out there and make that ‘something else’ happen. Sometimes we talked a lot whilst working, sometimes we said very little. Then these wonderful, raw, immediate, unfussy, figurative/abstract sculptures emerged.

I think that the last piece we made is amazing, so too the are the first couple and i’m thrilled that we pulled something out of the experience. I learned a great deal about having an object sit in space, to make a convincing ‘thing’ that has volume and that one can believe in.

Then the beers did come out…….
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The history of art, music and literature is filled with many unusual partnerships, or at times stormy, passionate affairs between creative spirits – like Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat in the Eighties. What did Clem and you accomplish together that you would not have been able to do alone?

Morley: The finished work – some of which is very good – would otherwise never have happened. I have the luxury of living with the fruits of our labour and have been enjoying their presence in my studio. There is a freedom in the way Clem works that I had the chance to experience and internalize.

IMG_2084What was the most inspiring moment during your collaboration?

Morley: I think some of our walks together. As Clem comes from London, I wanted him to experience my environment on Salt Spring Island. I wanted him to see what living in the pines is all about, and we talked about the importance of being healthy and connected to the earth through exercise and food. I have been dealing with cancer for a while and don’t know what my time line is, which brings an urgency to who we are and what we do as artists.

Morley Myers and Clem Crosby, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and insights with my readers.

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About Morley Myers

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.

About Clem Crosby

Clem Crosby is a British painter living and working in London, UK and is represented by the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London

Crosby’s work is represented in the following Tate Archive, London, UC Berkeley Museum, USA, and the Microsoft Collection, USA amongst others.

He recently exhibited his paintings at the Armory, NY (2016) with Houldsworth and is being featured in an interview with the artist Ian Davenport in Turps Magazine (July, 2016)

Other collaborative projects in the art world

The history of art, music and literature is filled with many unusual and passionate partnerships, and at times stormy, love affairs between creative spirits.

– Painter Dalí and filmmaker Luis Buñuel were still relatively unknown in their fields when they created the classic surrealist short film “Un Chien Andalou” back in 1928.

– When in 1949, LIFE staff photographer Mili went to visit the Picasso at his studio in France, the painter became so fascinated with Mili’s light painting technique that he suggested to have pictures of him taken as he painted in the air.

– After meeting Warhol in 1980, Jean-Michel Basquiat entered into a collaborative relationship with the artist that lasted until 1985 and created many products of the admired and refuted 1980s Pop art.

– Abstract expressionist Robert Rauschenberg contributed this “money thrower” to an installation for an exhibition of Tinguely’s work in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art.

Creative couple collaborations:

The following couples dared to mix business with pleasure, establishing compatible relationships on both a personal and professional level. Their professional collaboration often produced extraordinary results: the intellectual souls Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre; the Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera; Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock – two of the best known American artists of the 20th century – and the poets and writer Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

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Recent work by M. Myers

 

 

Morley Myers – Sculpting the shape of the human condition

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Morley Myers and ‘Blink of an Eye’

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.

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Male Torso as Armour

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.

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Linear Thinking

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?

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Red Face

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.

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ABOUT:

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.

Artist website:
morleymyers.com

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