Artists In Their Own Words: Thomas Randolph Morrison
Who: Thomas Randolph Morrison
Where: Irish Channel
Artist Chosen Location for Interview: Mojo Coffee – where his bronze sculptures are across the street at St. Vincent’s Guest House and one of his gargoyle sculptures hangs off a chimney in the distance
Q: If you were going to be shaped into a Greek mythological character, which one would you choose?
A: Maybe Morpheus. I love that he conjures the visions of people’s dreams, and I feel like artists do that. We bring visions to life. He’s rather magical because those dreams can get really wild.
One time I started sculpting a piece about nightmares, and it became a surreal, disturbing piece involving horses and parts of humans all flowing together – as if the material itself was the miasma of thought. It was similar to the original Solaris film where the clouds are taking on forms. You may get to see that sculpture one of these days. I want to continue playing with it.
That’s what I love about improvisation. You take a block of clay, and if you have the right techniques, it can bubble up into any shape that it wants to become. That’s so incredibly powerful, rather than planning everything out ahead of time. The emotional context of the day can change things, and if you are stuck within one architecture then you can’t always explore those avenues.
There’s almost a limited life with how long you can work on a piece because you change so much through time. It can be frustrating. I’ve lost dozens and dozens of pieces because I didn’t have time, and then you have to start from scratch because you have a new emotional connection to it.
Q: What’s your favorite shape to feel?
A: Definitely the sphere. It’s the building block of nature. If you look throughout the universe – stars, planets, even clusters – it’s universal. It’s a totally coherent thought form that manifests in three dimensions. It’s continuous and infinite.
Q: So why do you think we make buildings square and flat?
A: We make buildings with squares and lines because it’s economical. It’s much cheaper to build things straight and flat. Everything with a sphere has to be custom shaped. You can actually see the shift in Carnival floats from flowing organic forms to straight flat boxes over the last century – that’s been driven by economics.
Q: What’s something you often see and wish could be heard?
A: It would be nice if someone could capture the sound of the female form. It would probably sound like a rhythmic interweaving of tracks in that beautiful realm between classical and techno music.
I actually create song compilations when I’m working on certain projects. You want to have a state of energy for each piece that you are doing. If you are doing a poetic, thoughtful piece, you want really deep lyrics, and you want a different pace in the tempo. I’ll pick a lot of my favorite melodic pieces for that kind of work.
Then if you are doing something intense and very masculine, you’ll want to have a really driving, hard-hitting Nine-Inch-Nails-style compilation. Then you can stay in that energy. You can actually feel the music while you’re sculpting, and having that state of consciousness is really important.
Q: What throw would you like to see get caught on one of your sculptures?
A: Well, this reminds me of when someone made a ring out of flowers for the Aphrodite sculpture that I took to Burning Man; I thought that was incredibly sweet and beautiful. You’d come out to this giant desert spot to see Aphrodite – to see her and check on her to make sure nothing had happened to her – and you find these little tributes and gifts. Sometimes you’d see someone cradled in her arm getting their photo taken, and it was so wonderful to see people enjoying and having an experience with the piece.
I don’t really believe in the bead culture of Carnival. I am really concerned about the impact that it’s having on parades. Riders used to just flip precious metal coins that were printed here in New Orleans from small pouches. Those were the only throws that they had, which seems inconceivable now.
Now we’re exporting our discretionary income to get these toxic beads made that come back to us and are worthless. So many of them end up in landfills. I mean, who is that working for?
Life is about experiences, and the floats of the 19th and even into the 20th century are absolutely breathtaking. They are inspiring works of museum quality artwork. They were spectacular. There’s this myth that that has been lost, but it hasn’t been. Artists here are absolutely capable and ready to create that.
Q: What’s the worst ritual with what you do?
A: Putting on the work clothes. They’re just destroyed. You always end up being dressed up, you get called in, and then you have this piece of material embedded in your clothes, and you’ll never get that out. It’s a very humbling experience.
Q: What do you think the phrase “drop out of life” means when it comes to art?
A: I suppose I could take a look at my own life from the outside and see it in those terms, but that’s an alien perspective to me because art is all about plugging into life rather than dropping out.
I think our culture, though, has an extremely narcissistic, materialist quality to it, where you’re supposed to be pursuing acquisition your entire life. You’re supposed to be climbing a ladder and seeking fortune, so you aren’t living for any other purpose than your own self-interest. A lot of people reject that and get off of that ladder. They reject that entire modality of life. I think people think you are dropping out if you reject that paradigm.
I almost feel like we live in a construct of the sociopath mentality. That our entire capitalist society is so focused on the individual that it rejects all notions of collective responsibility, meaning, purpose, empathy. All of these things that completely define us as humans seem to be buried under our current culture. But New Orleans culture still has that deeper sense of humanity, more so than most of the country, and that’s one of the things that brought me here.
People see walking away from selfishness as dropping out, but I see it as plugging into life in a really wonderful way.
You can see Thomas Randolph Morrison’s work in live form at St. Vincent’s Guest House where his bronze sculptures are currently on display. His work will also be rolling down the streets of New Orleans for the Krewe of Pygmalion and a lot of his signature work can be seen in the Krewe of Hermes. To learn more about his projects and pieces, visit his website, and you can follow his work on the Morrison Sculpture Facebook page.
Kelley Crawford is a professor, writer, mentor, dancer, and constant questioner. If you would like to contact Kelley Crawford, you can email her at [email protected].