Artist, Writer, Curator.
At 26 years of age, artist, writer, & curator Matt Morris is quite accomplished. With several years worth of published writings in regional and international publications (including this journal,) participation in five group shows and two curatorial projects this past year alone, as well as being a founding member of the U-turn Art Space collective since 2009, he can certainly be described as prolific.
Raised in Southern Louisiana, Morris came to Cincinnati in 2003 to attend the Art Academy of Cincinnati and graduated with his BFA in 2007 as Valedictorian of his class. His decision to attend the AAC has, according to the artist, become “sort of legend” in his alma mater. Morris knew little more about Cincinnati than artists Petah Coyne & Tony Tasset had attended the program. Because he stayed after graduating, we might assume that his decision was fortuitous. Morris said he realized that “it only took a handful of people in this city to keep the art scene moving and thriving and I wanted to contribute to that.”
And “contribute” he has. Since 2007, Morris and his partner, painter & U-turn collective member Eric Ruschman, have lived and held a studio in Brighton’s arts district. For the past three years, he has worked regularly with semantics gallery, juried exhibitions, held solo shows, participated in group shows, published zines, and written exhibition catalogues/monographs. “I don’t know that I felt very empowered from the outside,” Morris further explained, “I just knew that it was possible to do something.”
Despite his many responsibilities, (Morris also holds a full-time position with the Cincinnati Public Library,) he spends a good deal of quiet time in his studio space, “collecting things and watching them until they become what they need to be of their own accord.” The artist’s self-described “primary artistic vocabulary” consists of “found objects that haven’t been manipulated at all or manipulated very slightly in the studio.” By his own estimation, Morris is less object-centric than “interested in the intervals between these points in space.” In emphasizing his interest in process, Morris underscores his relationship to conceptual post-minimalist art that is (at least partly) an exploration of art about art. It is, thus, unsurprising that he uses language to add layers of significance to his art production.
Declared influences such as Robert Irwin, Laurie Parsons, and Gedi Siboney are evident in Morris’ pared-down aesthetics and employment of everyday objects to create fleeting moments of beauty for the viewer. In past shows, Morris has worked with such humble materials as Kleenex, yarn, tulle, foamcore, & flour. His palette is sparse, (often muted white or transparent, with brief hints of buff and rose,) but Morris insists that it is never given at the forefront of any project. He says that friends who visit him in his studio are often amused to find a painter’s palette dotted with bright paints nearby. Aesthetic choices such as palette are merely responses to the works’ environments—one can assume both his studio and a gallery’s white cube—Morris argues, and this would support his previously purported interest in the space between objects.
Several concerns Morris engages through his artistic praxis: How does one blur the boundaries between art and life? How do objects convey meaning? And how can artists coax significance out of said objects? For example, a recent installation at Prairie Gallery included a table atop which Morris placed macaroons. The object, once used in a kitchen and more recently as a studio drawing table, “reenacted its own history, fluctuating between art gallery and hearth kitchen space,” encouraging gallery-goers to stand around eating and talking. Morris has used food in past exhibitions as a device to engage people’s multiple senses; food too can be thought of as found object with a history inscribed onto its surface.
Throughout Morris’ oeuvre, he plays with similar issues on multiple stages. As a fine artist, he employs the found object. As a curator, he finds that sometimes “there are questions that I want to answer but my work isn’t sufficient, so I look out for someone else or some number of people who are making things that can maybe do that more effectively.” This ‘artist as curator’ approach allows Morris to present someone else’s work that can fulfill the same drives he has in creating his own artwork.
When discussing the hierarchy of his various artistic platforms, Morris claims, “Everything else sort of comes out of that studio practice.” Writing seems particularly central to his process, however. Morris continues, “the more I [wrote about art] the more ineffable I felt that my art could become…I don’t think I could do one without the other.” It makes sense that these two components seem inseparable in Morris’ production, as artists (Robert Smithson is one such example) have long complemented conceptual objects with collateral materials. Writing behooves the creation of art that is based upon abstract thought.
In a city with a rich tradition of valuing contemporary artists, Morris has flourished by seizing opportunity and working his butt off. His impression of Cincinnati artists is similar to how he views Cincinnati’s art scene in general. He said, “a lot of times I think people have an unjustified sense of unworthiness; they feel afraid of being a part of it. When I talk to artists and writers, I find that that sense of unworthiness kind of permeates everyone.” Morris however, is a model of self-promotion. He has a personal blog, website, a blog for U-turn, an online store that sells U-turn’s exhibition catalogues, and (as outlined above) his name listed in numerous exhibitions & publications.
While Morris does intend to pursue a Masters or Doctoral degree, he says that he will most likely move out of Cincinnati to do so. “I adore this place and the discourse that happens here,” he goes onto explain, “but I would want other adventures in my life. I’m not feeling very settled.” Yearning for more adventures seems apt for someone in his mid-twenties. Morris was coy, though, when asked about when he might leave. Regarding U-turn’s future he said, “we’ve scheduled at least through June so there’s quite a bit to go. I don’t know what happens after that but we’re very excited about what’s happened there.”
– Maria Seda-Reeder