Morley is an extremely active street artist who just released a new book called, “LETS BURN THIS MOMENT DOWN TO THE FILTER “ . As fans of his uniquely personal approach we were curious about his relationship with graffiti and what motivates his approach to the craft. Lucky for us he was generous with his wisdom and we ended up with one of our favorite and most insightful interviews so far. It’s a little long, but well worth the read.
How did you first get into street art and who were your first influences?
I discovered street art when I attended college in New York at a place called The School of Visual Arts. I had moved there from Iowa and become fascinated by the blossoming street art scene of the early 2000s. I was majoring in screenwriting at the time and found the notion of creating art for an audience without having to go through the endless battalion of gatekeepers and middlemen intoxicating. I was seeing artists like Shepard Fairey and Neckface getting up in my neighborhood and while I liked their stuff, I wanted to send messages a little more candidly communicative so my style started to develop from there.
Your work is more vulnerable than that of the average street artist, why do you think that is?
From the start I wanted to offer something that I felt no other street artist offered at the time. I wanted to speak directly into people’s lives- which is a privilege earned only though offering honesty and vulnerability. People don’t often trust you unless they feel a connection that’s sincere. For me, I didn’t want to be a cooler-than-thou urban folk hero, I wanted to be a real person that they could form a relationship with. So for me, vulnerability in my work seemed like a requirement.
While most street artists are trying to hide their identity you tend to put it center stage - regularly including yourself in your pieces. How did you become your own character, so to speak?
I include myself because I didn’t want my messages to be coming from a logo or a brand but from a real person. I wanted my words to be those of a friend that isn’t glamorous or exciting to look at. I’m just a slightly awkward guy with glasses. When people listen to music they form a bond with the artist because the artist appears to be speaking directly to them. I wanted that same kind of relationship and including myself seemed like the easiest way to do it.
What you’re saying in your pieces often seems to be the focal point, it kind of becomes the art itself. What led you to this “style” or approach?
When I decided to start putting art on the street I knew that my talents were limited. The only skill I felt I had any kind of real strength with was my writing. I decided to embrace text and let it define me and my art.
How do you come up with so many quotes? Are they inspired thoughts, song lyrics, fortune cookies?
I dunno, I just think them up really. They come to me in traffic and as I’m drifting off to sleep. The goal is always to express a complex idea in as few words as possible.
You seem to work with a lot of wheat paste, of all the ways to create street art, what led you to this technique, what do you like about it, and why do you still use it so heavily?
I like the fact that it allows me to create a lot of variety. The context of the art really matters to me as it makes the art come alive and interact with the environment. I wouldn’t put up a poster about materialism in Compton nor a poster about perseverance in Beverly Hills. Wheat pasted posters allows me to have 50 different options in my trunk and if I find a good spot I can run out and put it up. If I were to use stencils I’d be much more limited as cutting stencils is a lot more time consuming.
Are you posting up original paintings or are you putting up prints? Can you tell us a little about your process?
I design the piece and then print out large posters on a large format printer. So the pieces on the street are essentially like wallpaper that I’m pasting up.
Do you ever re-use a poster, design, or a quote, or is each piece original?
I’ll re-use a poster from time to time if it’s something that feels applicable to a location or if I am particularly happy with a sentiment and want to put it up more than once.
Compared to a drippy marker tag, we imagine your artwork has more appeal to the average pedestrian. Has this accessibility helped your popularity as a street artist or hurt it by not being “hardcore” enough?
To me, the only people who think the wheat paste medium is “less than” any another form of creative expression are elitists who invent arbitrary rules. Graf writers look down on wheat paste artists, wheat paste artists look down on sticker artists, sticker artists look down on taggers and none of it matters to the average person walking down the street. I find artists that are fixated on being “hardcore” make art that’s masturbatory. I aspire to reach people who couldn’t care less about what’s hardcore in the street art scene. I’m not sure if this has made me more popular - and certainly there’s beautiful graffiti that I admire greatly, but I’m happy knowing that anyone who walks past something I’ve put up can connect with it on perhaps a more universal level.
Do you think of yourself as a vandal? Despite the positive tones of your art, you’re getting up and it definitely looks like it’s not all commissioned.
99% of my art is illegal. That said, I don’t consider myself a vandal. I look for spots that aren’t going to leave any lasting property damage- which is another reason that I like wheat paste. I think it’s possible to create art on your own terms and still be a positive force in a community.
Do you get a chance to work with spray paint much?
I work with spray paint in the original pieces that I have in galleries.
When you choose a location for your art, what are you thinking about?
I look for two things. How will the space interact with the words and who is the kind of person who will walk past it. The environment and the population of that environment inform what kind of spot I’m looking for.
What are you trying to accomplish with your street art? What are some of your goals and ambitions?
Whenever I experience art that articulates something I felt but couldn't express, there’s such a sense of relief. I strive for that in my work first and foremost. The fact that I express these ideas in an illegal fashion, as opposed to through art that is commissioned, is important to me as I have no commercial filter, no agenda beyond creative expression. The fact that people may see it one day and the next it's been painted over or torn down speaks to the temporary nature of things and the need to be awake and alive in each moment because it won't last long.
You probably get people taking selfies in front of your art all the time, how has Instagram helped you as an artist?
It’s certainly extended the life-span of my work. What gets painted over or torn down in a couple days can live on for ever online- and people share stuff with their friends, so it’s definitely helped in that way.
Does music play a role in your art? What’s in your headphones these days?
I listen to all kinds of stuff. I like everything from J. Cole and Atmosphere to The Avett Brothers and old Motown songs. Music is a great inspiration for me as lyrics are similar to the messages I create for my art.
Your color choices are usually a lot of black and white? Why these color choices?
For one I think black and white stands out amongst all the colors that are constantly thrust in our face from advertisers. It’s a boldness in the contrast of black and white that I think people notice particularly. Also I have a black and white printer so it works out that I usually only have that option.
Do you have a favorite marker? And why?
Sharpies are the brand for me. I don’t really know why. I’m just very familiar with how they feel and what they do. It’s like duct tape. You can’t beat the classic.
Favorite surface to put your art on and why?
Boarded up buildings. Once they sell the building they can pull down the boards and no damage has been done. But before they do, it’s a very cool frame for a piece of art.
You are a very active artist, but all at work takes a ton of energy, What motivates you to keep getting up day after day?
I just get a kick out of expressing myself. Connecting with people has become my passion and knowing that anyone who stumbles over something I’ve done could potentially get something from it is a great motivator.
What kind of project gets you most excited ?
I love hitting the streets and looking for a good spot. I go out during the day as someone busted at 2AM clearly knows what he’s doing isn’t legal. At 2pm most people think you have permission and if you don’t correct them, you can get away with quite a bit.
If graffiti is illegal, and creating graffiti, big or small, is a crime, do you feel like a criminal, or do you feel like an artist? Maybe a better way to ask is: Do you feel you are you a criminal as defined by authorities for the placement of some of your art?
I don’t think of myself as a criminal. I think of myself as an artist who doesn’t ask permission. And I find that it’s always better to apologize than ask permission. As far as how others define what I do, I think culture is evolving and even police are lightening up. I think people are really starting to see how a piece of art without an agenda to sell you something can make the world a better place.
Where do you think an artist should be able to paint or place work in terms of street art or graffiti? What spaces are “off limits” to you?
Every artists has their own set of rules. For me, I never wanted someone who has a business and is barely getting by to come to work and see that I’ve jacked up his window or significantly damaged his property. I never wanted someone to say “well that’s a positive message… expressed in a very destructive way.”
What is a trick you've picked up over the years that helps out your process?
Wear a construction vest. You become invisible to most people if you wear one of those and carry a big bucket of paste.
Is there anything, inside or outside the street art world, that you find really inspires your style or how you make your art?
I look for inspiration in everything. I think it’s great to look in other artistic mediums. Whether it’s photography or sculpture, dance or film-making. There’s a lot of inspiration in all of it.
Do you have any big projects we should be looking out for?
I have a book coming out in November called “Let’s Burn this Moment Down to the Filter” that I’m really proud of. It collects the last five or so years of my work and I think it’s pretty cool.
In interviews people always ask the artist ”Do you have any advice for the beginner?” Beyond the obvious response like “practice more” - What sage like wisdom can you offer the neophyte regarding the culture, codes and ethics, safety tips, tools and techniques, ect?
I would just say that the most important thing any artist of any medium can do is to find their voice. It’s difficult to create art that isn’t your best imitation of the artists that you admire but the best thing you can do is mine your heart for what defines your perspective. The most gratifying thing an artist can experience is feeling that regardless of success, they can know that without them- the universe wouldn't have what they'd created. The world can ignore something if they have some variation of it that's easily accessible- but if you can find something to express in a way that is uniquely personal, you're a lot more likely to get a response from someone who has been looking for a voice like yours.
If someone wants to follow you or learn more about you, where should they look?
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I met Helno about 8 years ago. Pretty much thought he was a pro skater that just tagged when he skated around town. Then I started seeing his stuff pop up all around town and on trains. - Jaber