Interview: LARVAE by Jamey Morrill (Collect, Autumn 2012)

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Interview by Robert Stack, Curator, Yellow Peril Gallery

Jamey Morrill is a Providence-based sculptor and adjunct professor of art at Rhode Island College in Providence, RI. In recent years Morrill’s sculpture has become increasingly sprawling and site-specific, with emphasis on mass-produced materials and organic forms. Often using commonplace materials such as plastic bottles, chicken wire, and duct tape, Morrill constructs sculptures that are outwardly cerebral and systematic but that are fundamentally random and irrational.

These odd, yet beautifully translucent and luminous forms resemble tightly wound chrysalides seemingly in a dormant state. At Yellow Peril, the LARVAE sculptures will inhabit the exhibition space in unexpected ways – with forms alternately touching the floor and walls or suspended tensely just inches from them.

Yellow Peril Gallery’s Curator Robert Stack recently had a chance to interview Morrill and ask those burning questions that are on your mind.

What first drew you to large-scale installation work?

I don’t recall making a conscious decision to build large installation sculpture. I think there must have been a collision of factors involved. My first sculpture instructor, Imi Hwangbo, was an ambitious, young artist whose work was often sprawling. In class Imi showed slides of similarly large-scale sculpture projects by other artists. She invited guest speakers such as Patrick Dougherty and Joe Seipel, whose art was not merely large-scaled, but also odd or witty or unclassifiable. The lasting lesson I drew from Imi’s class was the wide-open, even lawless, nature of sculpture. To me sculpture seemed at once a laboratory and playground. Even now, sculpture feels liberating to me – a room without walls.

Apart from Imi’s influence on my early development, there was an energy and enthusiasm I felt at age 27 of having finally found what I wanted to do with my life. Perhaps I possessed a suppressed energy that was suddenly released. Maybe this translated most naturally into big projects rather than modestly-sized objects.

Your work seems to address a juxtaposition of assumed opposites, such as strange almost negative forms assembled from mundane everyday objects. How did you get interested in this sort of dialog?

I wish I could say that I were a systematic thinker. My choices as an artist are not deliberate in the way the arguments of a philosopher are. I am continually drawn to mundane, mass-produced materials in a visceral way. I do not choose a material because I see it as a vehicle for some argument I am trying to build, but because I respond to it emotionally. Many times people have seen politics in my sculpture, which is possible, but not intentional on my part.

With the Larvae series, there appears to be this comparison drawn between natural organic process and man-made mass-produced industrialization. Can you expound upon this coupling of what is often assumed to be polar opposites?

I feel there is a tension that results from the juxtaposition of outwardly dissimilar or opposing materials. In Larvae, for instance, there is a combination of plastic bottles and drywall screws. Normally, this combination would result in a failure of the bottle, and likely, a mess. But in Larvae the screws act as an anchorage for the monofilament, which binds the bottle forms together. Despite making the construction of the forms possible, the drywall screws are undeniably aggressive, even violent in appearance. For me this dual quality of the drywall screws rings true. This quality applies to nature and culture, though we often prefer a sanitized view of the world – where there is harmony and no discord, and where there is a clear line between man and wild nature. This view would shift, I expect, and perhaps also our self-image, if we suddenly had to slaughter an animal for our next meal. So, as sterile as a plastic bottle may be, it is nonetheless derived from ancient, decomposed marine plants and animals, now buried deep below ground. Maybe, then, it is not a such a stretch to envision a plastic bottle reborn as something alive, such as an insect larva.

There is a certain minimalist approach in terms of palette, materials and forms. What inspires this?

I am fascinated by the idea that an oak tree can spring from an acorn, or an immense Bach Fugue from a single musical idea. I once read that the first job of the artist is to establish a small set of rules and restrictions. The second job is to exhaust those rules and limits. This is always the way I have proceeded. Limits are liberating. Have you ever seen the home-made soccer balls children use in impoverished, rural Africa? They are more imaginative, inventive, and exuberant than anything I’ve seen in Chelsea lately.

How is your current work evolving from past successes?

Well, as a rule, I am trying to compress my work, that is, to work smaller. I am interested to find out if I can make smaller pieces without losing the intensity and ambition of earlier installations. So, yes, I am trying to have it both ways. I want to continue the unruly and playful nature of previous sculpture projects while working on the wall at a modest scale. Larvae is perhaps my last tango with the large format. But who knows? I have another idea I want to explore. It involves a large outdoor site, sound, and lights. So, in short, I am not truly reformed.

In what direction do you see your work heading?

The aforementioned smaller format is where I am headed. I want to try making attenuated versions of my latest pieces, the Landscape Sculptures, but with a monochromatic palette this time. All white. These expanded Landscape Sculptures will still be wall-mounted, but could be as tall as six feet.

LARVAE, an installation comprised of sculptural forms made from plastic bottles, monofilament, and drywall screws, will be on display from November 15 – December 9, 2012 at Yellow Peril Gallery. This interview originally appeared in the Autumn 2012 issue of COLLECT.