James Robert Morrison has recently joined Rise Art, bringing his diverse portfolio of works to the platform. From cigarette paper drawings to gay-porn-inspired embroidered installations, the artist uses a variety of mediums to explore his memory, experience, and eventual acceptance of his sexuality. His highly personal subject matter, expressed with honesty and openness, allows James to present his work with a truly singular voice.
How would you describe your style and the work you create?
There are two key threads that run through all the work I create – personal experience as subject matter and drawing. Work that is intimate and draws on the artist’s personal experiences really appeals to me, so it made sense for me to make this kind of work myself. I create a lot of pencil drawings, however I see collage as a more immediate way to draw, embroidery as drawing with a needle and yarn, and my paintings are more like drawings as I use acrylic paint pens instead of brushes.
I use a diverse range of media – drawing, painting, collage and embroidery, so I find it quite difficult to describe a specific style. Despite this, I do think I consistently maintain a quality and cohesion to the work which clearly makes it mine.
Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind your practice
I first started to make work about my sexuality in the final year of my degree (just after I came out), this continued on my MA at Central Saint Martins and I am still focusing on this subject matter now.
The main inspiration behind my work at the moment, comes from a personal archive of gay pornography that was secretly collected whilst my real sexuality was not disclosed. Images are borrowed from the pornography or the magazines themselves are reappropriated, as it feels important for me to make something new out of this personal printed matter. The work created addresses my memory and experience of discovering my sexuality, and journey to understanding, accepting and valuing it.
Other inspiration comes from a variety of sources – films, documentaries, reading, conversations I’ve had or have overheard. It’s about taking all the little everyday things and observing them with a critical eye.
How has your practice evolved in recent years?
After graduating in 2002, my focus was to work full-time within the cultural sector in order to provide a regular income to pay back the five years of student debt I had accumulated. Seventeen years later, I was able to establish a dedicated studio and working pattern to critically support new development of my creative practice.
My personal subject matter has remained consistent since the final year of my undergraduate degree, as has my playful and experimental approach towards the media I use. However, the break from creating work has definitely allowed me to evolve a renewed focus and opportunity towards my practice, and the immediate results of this are clearly tangible, as is the relevance and profile of my achievements during this time.
What’s an average day like in your studio?
As I work part-time, I only have two dedicated studio days a week (although I usually end up working on weekends as well). I try to spend most of my studio days making work, although this really depends on my mood if I’m being honest.
If I've had a good night's sleep and been to the gym in the morning, I will work on cigarette paper drawings for the day. To prepare the surfaces successfully and produce the level of detail I want in these drawings, I have to be feeling good and completely focused. I find it difficult to work in silence, so I will stream a documentary, film or tv series in the background.
When my mood and focus isn’t at the right level for drawing, I will work on paintings, collage and embroidery for the day. Creating these works requires me to be more physical and get into a rhythm, so I will play music in the background – usually mixes on Soundcloud by Horse Meat Disco, Honey Dijon or Disco Smack.
There are also some days when I am not feeling creative at all – so I will work on admin, do some reading or mindfulness and then take a long nap on the studio sofa!
What/Who are your key influences?
My art school education began at the start of September 1997, later that month the controversial Sensation exhibition opened at the Royal Academy in London. Suddenly, everyone was talking about contemporary art and I discovered the work of the Young British Artists at a pivotal time. The artists in this show were challenging the boundaries of what can be considered art, what is acceptable to be represented in art, and what art can say – this has definitely been a key influence on me and my work.
In terms of specific artists, there are a few who are key influences, but in different ways:
Tracey Emin and Nan Goldin – use of personal and intimate subject matter in their work.
Derek Jarman, David Hockney, David Robilliard, David Wojnarowicz, Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol – queer artists who did not shy away from making art about queer identities and experience at a time when it was difficult to do so.
Barbara Walker – pushing and elevating the medium of drawing and highlighting the importance of visibility and representation in her work.
Who are some Rise Art artists with work you're enjoying at the moment?
Sarah Whiteley – I love her landscape paintings on antique and recycled domestic fabric. It’s such an interesting surface to paint on and I really appreciate how it brings together different narratives by revealing and concealing different details.
Gavin Dobson – I really admire his process, storytelling and loose/expressive style of painting. His work is fresh and full of energy and movement.
Oleksandr Balbyshev – particularly his figurative nude paintings that explore themes of male sensuality and sexuality, although I equally admire the highly decorative work he creates using found sculptures and portraits of Lenin.
Are you currently working on any exciting new projects?
Not currently, but there are two new projects I am excited about getting started on towards the end of this year and next year.
One will continue to explore the personal subject matter my current work is concerned with, and like my cigarette paper drawings, I will be using another unique and challenging surface to work on.
The second will involve a dedicated research period with a public archive – I am really keen to create new and broader research based methodologies and introduce other aspects of queer experience, identities and histories into my work.