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MORGAN JESSE LAPPIN: ENTERTAINING COLLAGES

One day, I got an email from artist Adrienne Moumin who suggested that I interview Morgan Jesse Lappin http://www.morganlappin.com/.  Well, I always check out artist recommendations and while looking at Morgan’s website, I smiled and sent him an email right away.  His work is delightful and so is he.  We had a cool chat.  Check him out …  

“… I believe that Collage is currently pushing forward to be a more respected form of art today with a surge of new collage artists popping up from all over the world at warp speed …”  

MICHAEL: Hello Morgan, Where do I begin with you?  Hmm.  Collage.  Your work is fun, raw, edgy, weird, subversive, naughty and witty.  What's going on in that head of yours?  Why such work?

MORGAN: Well, my mind moves faster than I can keep up with. So there's a lot of information I need to filter, but I've taught myself to lock in on projects one step at a time.  It’s sort of like a roulette table of spinning images and once that ball stops, I'm in the zone.  Sometimes, the zone can be fun and playful, technical or just completely disturbing and perverted. One thing I love most of all is making someone laugh which is a big ingredient to my recipe.  I get great gratification from seeing reactions to my work ranging from a loud chuckle or a look of complete disgust.  I like taking people out of their comfort zone.  I think I saw someone vomit in their mouth once. 

MICHAEL: Well, that’s certainly a definite reaction.

MORGAN: I've always considered myself an entertainer and this is a way to entertain through art.  I spend 90% of my time cutting and cataloging hundreds upon hundreds of clips and 10% of my time actually making the work. Sometimes I have an idea going into a piece and sometimes they just happen as I cut and organize. 

MICHAEL: A lot of your work is funny which I find refreshing.  Where does this come from?

MORGAN: I was brought up by two hilarious people born and raised in NYC. They didn't try to be hilarious. It was just who they were and it became a big part of who I am today.  As a kid, my dad would force feed me Frank Zappa which was the best thing for a parent to do in my opinion and my mom was always figuring out different ways to deal with my ADHD by bringing me to “Art Therapy.”  

Both dabbled in art, but never took it seriously. I was the same way until 2007.  That’s when I was working with my friend at his silkscreen shop making art for t-shirt designs and I fell in love with making collage art. These days, I just overload myself with projects that I'll need another two lifetimes to complete.  What's in my head now? Quitting my full-time job and making it all happen.

MICHAEL: That seems to be everyone's dream, quitting their full-time job to pursue their dream.  Collage work strikes me as being like a symphony conductor.  You're collecting and assembling all of these disparate objects and things and making them work as a new, whole creation.  How does the creative process actually work for you?

MORGAN: Michael, I really like the way you’re describing the process and I agree.  It starts with collecting the material.  Over the years, my go to source of material has been World Book Encyclopedia.  For the longest time, I sort of forced myself to only use material from that one source.  I watched on as others would use Time, Life Magazines and National Geographic.  I tried to run with the stranger publications and of course encyclopedias. Eventually, I broke down and took a lot of images from National Geographic but sparingly. I like a lot of digital collage, but it’s a process I would never touch.  I believe my work is a product of the hunt; the organizing images, the physical process of cutting and putting clips together. 

MICHAEL: How do you actually do it?

MORGAN: I started out using glue which I quickly abandoned for tape and double-sided matting tape. I actually take the bits of tape, tape them onto myself and then tape the clips.  The reason I do this is to make the tape less tacky so that if I need to make a change, I can do so without damaging the clips. I hate making permanent work because my work needs room to evolve.  I'm not an art school student, so I ignore the whole "archival" material approach because I'd rather my work change with age just as any living thing does and I view my work as an evolving living thing.

If it starts to yellow because I use cheap tape, then that just adds to the work, and I'll be long dead before that happens.  For all I know, our planet will spin off its axis within the next 100 years and spiral into the burning hot sun. As mentioned, I spend 90% of my time collecting, cutting and organizing my clips.  I have a filing system with more than 50 categories and hundreds upon hundreds of precut images.  A lot of them sit there gaining potency like fine wine until i pluck that ‘lil fucker and put him in his place.  Each work is a puzzle that doesn't exist until the little collage referee inside my skull tells me that piece is finished.

MICHAEL: What have you learned about life as a result of collage work?

MORGAN: Interesting question.  I would have to say that I never really thought of collage teaching me a lesson in life other than accepting that the art world is strange, random, and at times, completely confusing. These days, I spend most of my time in my room, but once this shit storm of a winter passes on, I'll crawl out of my hole to attend more art shows.  Collage has given me more of a purpose in life.  Nothing is more gratifying than knowing that my work is inspiring to others.  That's why I continue to try and be as productive as possible when it comes to making art and music.

MICHAEL: I often see collage works as commentary on society and the world.  You obviously cover many topics and themes, but would you say your body of work thus far has an overarching message?  I mean, why are you doing this?

MORGAN: Well, in the beginning, there was no message. I was just making collages for t-shirt designs, but that quickly evolved into something else. After that, I made collages for myself.  I lived upstate in Orange County with my parents.  I didn't have much direction until I moved to Brooklyn in 2008. So, I just framed the works and put them on my own wall. When I got into Brooklyn, I started to realize that I could share these works in shows and eventually maybe make some money doing something I love.  My first shows were mostly with the Antagonist Movement at Niagara Bar in the village.  I quickly got the itch to curate my own show, which turned into an exhibition showcasing the work of more than 35 local artists in the basement of 345 Eldert Street.  It was an amazing building to be a part of years ago.  It was a big hit and gave me the push to continue to make collage and curate shows.

MICHAEL: And your message now?

MORGAN: My message is as random as the thoughts in my head and I'm just trying to keep up with what my brain feeds me. I do it to inspire, to make people laugh, to make people feel awkward and to entertain. I also do it to meet other talented artists and that’s why in December of 2013, I started the Brooklyn Collage Collective http://www.brooklyncollagecollective.com/.  

Within a year, we got sponsored by XACTO, we pulled in over 30 members, had a bunch of shows and we have a lot more to go in 2015.  In 2015, we've already had a huge show in Australia and now a show in the UK in the works and we're not slowing down. 

MICHAEL: I know of collage as something artists do as part of their overall body of work, but I've never thought of it as a genre unto itself.  Is that your thought about the BCC?

MORGAN: A question like this always makes me wish I had taken more art classes in school.  I have heard that collage hadn't been recognized as a true art form until the early 1900's with Picasso merging collage and painting. Cubomnia was one of the earlier forms of collage where one would cut an image into squares so that they could reassemble them forming a new image.  Many other forms of collage began to surface over the years until 1956 when Richard Hamilton created one of the most recognized and earliest Photomontage-Pop art collages in the UK which I believe is now the most popular form of collage used.

MICHAEL: Where do you think Collage is today.

MORGAN: I believe that Collage is currently pushing forward to be a more respected form of art today with a surge of new collage artists popping up from all over the world at warp speed.  I've been seeing a lot more collage work in prominent gallery's in New York throughout the years and it just seems that people are paying attention to this art form more than ever before. I fell in love with it quickly, and as a collector of “things,” I had the urge to put together a team of my favorite local collage artists. So far, we've had around seven shows since December 2013, one of them in Australia which turned out to be a huge hit. We have a book in the making and we're looking to continue to connect with other collage artists from around the world.

MICHAEL: I grew up in Brooklyn and there certainly wasn't much of an art community way back then.  What's it like now? Communities like Williamsburg continue to expand which is cool.  Do you feel that Brooklyn is part of the overall New York art community?  Manhattan is certainly more corporate.

MORGAN: I feel that things are slowly changing as far as how art is viewed in Manhattan as opposed to Brooklyn. I feel that people are slowly gaining more respect for both the artists and the shows based in Brooklyn.  Still a long way to go of course to get to the status of Chelsea, but that may not be the direction Brooklyn is going to anyway. I also feel like it’s the closest you can get to what it seemed to be back in the 70's early 80's in Lower Manhattan.  Right now, one of my main problems is that I spend too much time in my room and I need to start going to more shows. I do agree that Manhattan is more corporate and Brooklyn is the perfect alternative to that vibe and I like being a part of that.  Nice and gritty.  That vibe was part of the push of starting the Brooklyn Collage Collective.  I felt the time and environment was perfect and so, here we are.

MICHAEL: Collage is a genre where it's not necessarily so easy to see growth and maturity. Do you agree with this? Do you see depth and growth in your own work from when you first started?

MORGAN: I actually disagree with that statement.  It’s amazing how many unique styles can come from collage.  With the 30 members that have worked with and alongside of the Brooklyn Collage Collective, they surprisingly have their own unique collage identity which I feel is one of the more exciting aspect of the art of collage.  Like with painting, you have a pallet of colors to choose from and with collage artists, the palate can come from a multitude of sources, all with different colors, textures, and smells just like paint. From there, there are some who even combine drawing or painting with collage.  The possibilities are endless.

MICHAEL: And what are some of those possibilities? 

MORGAN: In the beginning, it was scissors and glue, that turned to XACTO knives and tape. I went from making collages with characters in strange environments to "groupage" collages, but I'll still jump back and forth in style from time to time.  I've made collages using my own hair to fill the void where the girl in pictures hair used to be. I've turned greek coffee cups into 3-D collages, and I have a few more strange ideas that I don't even want to mention just yet.  I'm really excited about all of them, which brings me back to never having enough time to get to it. My brain is like a tiny sand clock tipping back and forth before one side can fill all the way up with sand. I still see people pull off ideas that I've never thought of and that gives me more of a push to get up and keep working and I'm pretty sure I'll die as I create.  So yeah, I've seen a serious evolution in my collage work and the methods used to make them. 

MICHAEL: Do you think you could be doing the same work that you're doing now if you lived in Phoenix or Atlanta or Austin as compared to Brooklyn?  In other words, how important a factor is New York City to your work? 

MORGAN: My panic and anxiety keep me creating and so Brooklyn is the perfect place for me when it comes to producing my art.  I live close to most of my family here as well including my Grandma Dora.  I owe my existence to her since she was a Holocaust survivor who braved five camps before making her trip to the states.  At 88, she doesn't sit still.  She's basically the female version of Rambo as far as I'm concerned, making her a huge inspiration. If it weren't for her, I wouldn’t have run into the material that started me off, the World Book Encyclopedia.

New York truly is one of the most important art hubs in the world and at this time, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Every step you take, in every direction there's fast pace inspiration to be found. From amazing murals on buildings, street performers, to random garbage, all turned into what may or may not be a street art installation.  It’s an overload and I love the rush. It fits perfectly with the speed in which my mind works - warp speed.

MICHAEL: Finally Morgan, We're living in the extremely mobile, digital age when it's harder than ever for people to care about art.  Why should people care enough about art to stop and look?  What's in it for them?  Art is not curing cancer or bringing about world peace.

MORGAN: Art is entertainment.  It’s a reminder, it’s a source of love, pain, happiness, disgust and it's a mental trigger that can make you feel a certain way.  Art is power, art is a voice.  Art is also how some people make a living. I don't think that it’s harder for people to care about art, but depending on how you spend your time, I can see one being over-exposed to an ever flowing rush of art.  If you're not seeking it out, it will find you one way or another.

Art is different for everyone and no matter what it is - it will always be a form of communication.  Art covers a large spectrum of communication, from a painting on a canvas, to a song, or a movie.  So I believe art is more powerful than some may think because it’s a huge part of everyone’s daily lives.  It’s a part of humanity that makes us who we are or who we want to be.  So no matter what, you can't escape it, so I say to all … embrace it.

MICHAEL: Thanks Morgan.  You killed it.

MORGAN: Michael, I'm honored.  This is my biggest interview yet and super excited to share it with everyone!  Thanks again for the experience.

Check out Morgan Jesse Lappin at http://www.morganlappin.com/.  



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