Artist Q&A > Richard Allen Morris

San Diego-based artist Richard Allen Morris is the subject of the exhibition More like a Forest: Paintings and Sculptures by Richard Allen Morris. Here he discusses aspects of his career and a few of the works featured in the exhibition.

MCASD: When visitors first walk into the Museum they’ll see a series of 39 sculptures all from the 1980s. Can you talk a little bit about the inception of this body of work?

RAM: The building across the street from my studio on 4th Avenue and Market Street in downtown San Diego was a chapel that was turned into a thrift store. The building at the time was being torn down, and it wasn’t roped off so I had access to it. You could walk in and take stuff away, so at night I would take these timbers and drag them across the street to my studio. In many cases the situation was to make the timbers stand up again—it automatically became sculpture and I didn’t have to tinker with it much. It was, budget wise, free supplies. The timbers and demolished lumber were very sculptural stuff to begin with. For me it became very classical and sculptural. The wooden parts had a nice patina and a ripped apart quality. It seemed dynamic to me. If I got it standing up it could get quite lofty. Overall it had a sculptural attitude I really liked. It had a simplicity and it came together very quickly and effortlessly.

MCASD: One of the earliest paintings in the exhibition Art International (1961) is regarded as one of your most important works. Why is this particular work so important in your overall oeuvre?

RAM: At that time I was very interested in attempting to be a juror. I didn’t have any credentials and it made it very difficult to be invited to jury an exhibition. So I would instead take a magazine, any art magazine, and go through it page by page and jury these magazines. They were loaded with marvelous things so it became an affirmation of taste. I became the juror whether they would want it or not. I rendered on the canvas drawings of the reproductions of photos in the magazine. It was a lot of fun to do that. As it would move along I wouldn’t be able to make the canvas complete. I would run out of information or I would end the magazine. So it kind of floated in space like a salon style installation from floor to ceiling.

MCASD: In the exhibition there is a room dedicated to representational paintings, what you call “heads.” Can you speak more about your process?

RAM: Most of the little heads have to do with early figure painting, mostly dominated by cartoons. I was deeply affected by those styles. At one time I thought about maybe going completely in that direction. But I really got interested in handling paint. They’re intentionally simplistic—the positioning of the heads and everything is somewhat simple. I kept it that way and I think they have a certain power but at the same time are kind of goofy.

MCASD: In many of the smaller canvases featured in the exhibition, you pile on thick swaths of pigment directly onto the canvas, where the piled acrylic takes on a topographical dimension bordering on the sculptural. How did you arrive at this idea for these canvases?

RAM: I have always enjoyed the thickness of paint and had often thought about the attitude of thickness and going in that direction. I eventually changed from traditional paint to Patch-N-Paint, which was for patching holes in walls. You could get this quite thick, two to three inches. This is a tremendous product that is still on the market. I made many paintings with this material. I’m still kind of overjoyed with that effect and I’m glad I went toward that attitude. The secret was also to keep them light, so they wouldn’t tear the wall down.