Morgan Blair is a Brooklyn-based painter whose vibrant canvases are abstracted scenes of pop culture. We visited her at her Ridgewood studio and talked about Seinfeld, screencaps, and our love for cats. She is currently working on her project Puzzle Time making limited edition artist puzzles. She will be showing work in our upcoming No Vacancy II exhibition at Squat gallery opening March 31st.
Your paintings are abstractions of very specific screenshots, how do you source the imagery?
My imagery originates in stills from Youtube tutorial videos and Seinfeld episodes, Craigslist photos, photos of class projects from elementary school teacher blogs, and other miscellaneous web junk. I choose stills to work from by looking for moments with a certain balance between recognizable and abstracted forms, flat and dimensional space, regular and irregular shapes, and so on.
Is it important that your audience knows the source and story behind the image?
No. People will form their own ideas, or if they don't, the titles are there to guide them. Though, those are made up retroactively so they don't relate literally to the visual content of my paintings, but they are there to suggest hypothetical narratives.
What is your process?
It's always shifting. Lately I look for a source image to glom onto and study, then I draw or paint it and repeat the forms into pattern without adhering to the original proportions and composition, so the pattern becomes warped and weird with some shapes forced into smaller areas and some stretched to fill open spaces. Painting for me at this point entails masking off shapes with tape and filling them in with airbrush gradients or various textures. Also factoring in time to play with my cats.
How do you title your pieces?
I free-associate pop culture, political and personal references in the form of click-bait spam headlines, mostly.
How do you choose your palette?
Sometimes I'm thinking of a color scheme I saw on a VHS box or on my body in the clothes I'm wearing or on some food box. I like when it's vibrate-y and clashy.
How much of a role does either the computer, phone, camera screen play in the creating of your works and in viewing them?
The computer is a tool that I use to find and sometimes manipulate imagery, which mostly comes from inside the internet inside my computer. The internet is where I find obscure interpretations of reality that have been bastardized and regurgitated into nauseatingly meaningless absurdity, which I guess is what my paintings are reflections of.
Your Seinfeld series was a crowd favorite. Are you a fan of the TV series? What drew you to painting the characters?
Yes, I'm a deep Seinfeld fan. I started painting one still from an episode in an attempt to shake myself loose from a confusing dead place I was in with my work at the time. I was painting the same scene over and over, hoping to become more relaxed and loose with the imagery and detach from a need to stay loyal to the original details, maybe thinking it would turn into an abstract composition I could jump off of in my abstract work. I wasn't painting the characters at first, at least not in an overtly recognizable way with their faces showing, since that wasn't the point. But, eventually I started choosing stills with their faces in them and even rendering their faces until I was painting what appeared to be straight-up fan art portraits. Then I would paint some still with just objects in them. I did one that was just white paint with forms kind of drawn into it. The whole series and all the variations in it were half joke, half exercise in working differently. And 1% fan art.
Who are some contemporaries that you are looking at?
This guy on Ebay whose name I forget.
What projects are you working on now?
I'm making series of hand-cut limited edition artist puzzles, aka Puzzle Time, and coding the website. In the spring I'm going to paint a little mural for an elementary school in central Massachusetts. Starting a new painting in my studio. Thinking about how to make a paperweight.