Artists in their own words: Morgan McCall Molthrop
Who: Morgan McCall Molthrop
What: Writer and visual artist
Artist’s chosen location for interview: His studio at 3330 St. Claude: on a teal couch among paintings, canvas sheets, and furniture with Alexander the Great's face on it.
Q: What interests you more, answers or mystery?
A: I think the mystery has to lead to a conclusion for me. I have to land somewhere. That is what the narratives that I deal with are about. It’s about finding that mystery and then landing the plane. You make a decision about character, about background, and about everything. You make a decision to say, ‘I am in this person’s head.’ I am this person now.
I have to tell you that with the project that I’m working on now about Alexander the Great, I get very anxious about that plane landing because I want it to land right. I want it to be perfect. That perfectionism of striving to do it the right way is great and you want that, but it is also extremely stressful. You have to measure that desire to make something perfect so it doesn’t drive you crazy.
Part of landing the plane, though, is sitting down and doing the work. I’ve changed my process a bit because now I start with the art and then go to the writing. By doing that I storyboard everything, and I can get more details before I write. With Alexander the Great, I never understood what he might have looked like until I did a somewhat forensic study and painting of his face. Now I have this different understanding of who he is and what he looks like because the art came first. The plane landed on that.
I now have gotten to the point where I realize, ‘I probably know more about this person than anyone else living right now.’ [Laughing].
Q: How do you navigate a bar or a coffee shop when you first enter it ?
A: I like to go to places that I know. That’s part of my process. I do a lot of writing in coffee shops. The key to being me, is that when I enter a room I need people to be aware of my presence. It’s just something I have found important in life.
When I walk in I say hello to people. I smile at people. I go up and order my coffee, and then I claim my space. The people at the coffee shops I go to know that I’m writing a book, I give them copies of the books, and I know who is pregnant and what’s happening. We are connected in that way.
I really think they need to develop a dating app that is place-specific. That way when you’re sitting there and your mind wanders and you see someone that’s cute you could go on this place-specific app and ask, ‘I’m three tables down from you. I’m looking at you. Are you looking at me?’ Because dating websites don’t work, but that would work. A coffee-shop app.
We could call it ‘Hey Mojo.’ [Laughing].
Mojo is the place I go to quite often. It has a really good feel, the people are great there, and they know what they are doing. I also like going over to St. Roch. They have such a good coffee there, and it’s a great pick-up when I’m on the way to my studio.
Q: When is the best time to have a celebration?
A: I find that true friends are few and far between and celebrations come when you are with your friends in a moment when all your friends also want to be with you. I was talking to a friend of mine before about this, and we were talking about why we bag so much. We bag-out all the time.
When someone asks me, ‘What are you doing next Thursday?’ I have this reaction of: ‘I have no idea. That’s in four days.’ [Laughing]. I keep wanting to tell people that if they want to do something with me on Thursday then they'll have to ask me on that Thursday. This planning ahead, though, just leads to bagging on people. The way I live now is all about what I’m doing right now.
I also think that when you’re writing a book or you have an art show, then that's also a moment to celebrate. You have to recognize when you’ve done something. When you've completed something. It could be a wedding, when you get your manuscript in, or anything that you have been working on and you finish. That’s a moment to celebrate.
With writing it’s weird because it’s not very sexy. You can tell your friends, ‘I finished a manuscript today,’ and they’ll be like, ‘That’s cool. I did my laundry.’ You can’t really tell people about how you typed for five hours and you were so into it.
Q: Who from history would you like to have one night in New Orleans with?
A: I’m going to stay away from ancient history because it would be really obscure. I’m going to choose to have an American moment with Lincoln. I really admire his mind and his being. I wouldn’t necessarily have a plan of what we were going to do together besides have a really long conversation. I have a lot of questions for that dude.
I would really be interested in whether he truly is a universal thinker and how he would think about everything that is happening now. From a historical standpoint, Lincoln changed the world, and with all that has gone on with the Civil War and us continuing to deal with all the issues that were also around then, I would want to know his plan. He might have died gracefully before his time because the solution seems to have escaped us. I would love to know his perspective and his ideas. Then if we went to a play together I’d nonchalantly ask him, ‘So what did you think of that play?’
He and I could drive around in a Lincoln and talk about it.
See that painting over there?
[We look at a painting on the far wall of a painting Morgan completed while in Greece.]
That’s the Oracle of Delphi, and it’s the Temple of Apollo. That is on the back of the five-dollar bill because that is the structure that the Lincoln Memorial was designed after. I didn’t know that until I did that painting. I was looking on that painting for like three days, and then I pulled out a five-dollar bill and had this mind explosion.
Q: What is a sound that can take you back to childhood?
A: The steamboat. I have always been a steamboat fan. I have been fascinated by them, their grace, and their beauty.
My mother knew this, so when I was either 12 or 13 she made me a cake for my birthday that was in the shape of a steamboat, and she brought me and my friends on the Natchez. That is one of the great memories of childhood that I have.
The steamboat says so much about the river, New Orleans, and there’s that incredible steam. There’s a darkness to steamboats as well. They were responsible for a lot of really negative things. They carried the Native Americans as far west as they could when Jackson had the Trail of Tears. The steamboats made it possible for all of the plantations to ship cotton downriver and all of this incredible wealth came from the boom of the steam engine and steam era.
Sure, there’s the good side of jazz being played on the boats and blacks and whites being able to mingle on steamboats, but it has such a dark side when you think about the slavery it played a part in.
It's strange how we have an admiration for things that seem nostalgic, but when you start digging deeper you see that there’s a really strong dark side. We look at Jean-Lafitte and think he’s so great, and this guy was a pirate. He stole things and killed people! We can’t forget that.
Writer and artist Morgan McCall Molthrop has recently launched Lafitte’s Pirate Code and is scheduling a series of lectures in New Orleans, Lafayette, Galveston, and Pensacola to talk about the "last pirate of the Caribbean's" business tactics. If you are interested in having him speak to your group, or attending one of the events, you can contact him through his website at www.baratariacommunications.com.