20 Questions w/ Steven Morrell

Madelife caught up with Steven Morrell for a quick chat about his process, inspirations, and life as an Artist. Don’t miss your chance to catch a view of Steven’s most recent work ‘Ibashi’ at The makings of a Man Opening Reception on June 30th!

Describe yourself and your work.

I have been involved in creative endeavors my whole life. I began painting at around 12, and have continued to explore many forms of creative expression as a professional in the advertising industry, including graphic design, art direction, and creative writing. I am a realist painting exclusively in oils. I intend to create powerful images using a combination of dramatic lighting, unexpected poses, and expressive brushwork.

Who or what has been your biggest influence?

In addition to the works of classic artists like John Singer Sargeant and earlier portrait artists, I’m also inspired by modern artists like Gerhard Richter and Kehinde Wiley.

How did you get started in your career as an artist?

I feel like I’ve always been an artist, so it’s hard for me to define when it actually became a career. I guess technically it began when I was twelve. In the 80s, it was popular to have album covers of bands painted on the back of denim jackets. A friend of mine had his done, and I thought “I can do better than that”, so I did, and my dual career of paperboy and jacket painter was launched. As an adult, I graduated to mainly doing commissions of people, dogs, horses, and the occasional parakeet.

What piece of work best represents you and why?

The piece ‘Ibashi’ in this current collection best represents my evolution as an artist. It is one of the first pieces I’ve done in a while that was not commissioned, and it was liberating to develop this concept without the constraints of a client. It is a classic portrait, but in many ways it is also unconventional.

How do your materials influence your work?

I work in oils on traditional stretched canvas. There is a certain reverence and homage paid to old masters and a sense of continuing that legacy that I think unconsciously affects my work. There is a process but also a spontaneity and flexibility that oils contribute as a medium that I love.

Where do you go daily / weekly to get inspired? 

I try to get to museums and galleries to check out interesting work whenever I can. Also, there’s the interwebs.

Describe your work routine for your artistic practice.

My palette takes a solid hour to prepare, and I use 30 brushes. Because set-up and clean-up are so time intensive, it doesn’t make much sense to paint for short periods of time, so I usually paint for at least 6 hours, but usually closer to 10.

Tell us about any recent collaborations, why they worked or didn’t.

I’ve never collaborated with other artists, but I’m open to the prospect.

How do you balance being an artist and making a living?

I am a creative director in the advertising industry, so I don’t rely on my art to make a living. I paint for fun, and that’s the way I’d like to keep it.

What is your process for coming up with new work?

Absorb, absorb, absorb. I take in all the art I can, going to galleries, searching for the artists I like, getting out and just observing the world. I wouldn’t go as far as to say “good artists borrow, great artists steal”, but I do believe that no idea is an island, but an evolution of something that came before it.

Why do you believe art has value? 

Art has always been a source of social commentary, but I believe art is increasingly important, especially now. Art is democratizing. In an increasingly polarized and isolating world, art is for everyone, regardless of social standing, political views, or income.

What is playing on your stereo these days?

It is a mix of Biggie Smalls and Paul Simon.

What are you reading right now?

Michael Pollan’s “How to Change Your Mind”. It’s a book about psychedelics. He was recently in Boulder and had a book signing.

Where is your favorite place to visit?

Nature. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Thailand or the Flatirons, in nature is where I want to be. I’ll be headed to the Pacific Northwest this summer.

Which new (or newly discovered) artist is currently inspiring you the most?

Ryan Hewett’s work is amazing. His ultra-modern portrait pieces are both abstract and representational at the same time.

What’s the best thing about your studio/ workspace/ workshop?

Uh, it’s not my bedroom.

What do you do when you hit a block? 

I stop painting.

What’s the best part about being an artist? 

I love creating something that other people can connect to in some way.

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Learn more about Steven Morrell’s work @ www.smportraits.com

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