This interview was conducted via email and was published in the Lummox Journal in May of 2002.
Jazz Morgan in her studio
Jazz Morgan lives in Farmington, New Mexico.Most of her subjects are drawn from the
natural world: owls, cranes, polar bears… polar bears?In New Mexico?
Jazz says she paints what the spirit moves her to paint, even polar bears. “From
the beginning, there’s always been something unique about her work…this is an artist through whom extraordinary
forces are flowing.” Tom Milligan, PBS – NY
RD: I'm always interested in the journey
that brings creative people from the fledgling interest to wherever it is they are now. It sounds as though you have always
been an artist. Is this the case or did someone point you in this direction? If so, who was it and what were the circumstances'?
JM: I wasn't lucky enough to have supportive
parents or a mentor along the way. From earliest memory, I was always drawing and painting animals and stars on my bedroom
walls. My high school had a poetry journal and I wrote poetry for it every year. This was all just commonplace, I did not
think about creativity when I was younger. In New York City, where I grew up, there were, of course, the art museums.
Most of my free time was spent wandering around in them getting goosebumps looking at a Gauguin. You eventually know that
you were born an artist rather than growing into one – when the creative drive won't leave you alone no matter what
else is going on.
Once, after college, when my time was spent
in a nine to five job, I was so pressed with anxiety about not getting any creative work done, I mailed all of my paints and
brushes to an artist friend. But there is no peace if you are an artist. Within a few months I replaced all my supplies and
started again. There would be no peace…no hiding. The commitment had to be faced; it all comes down to what you can
live with and what you can sacrifice.
From your bio, I gather that you are always at work on your art, be it poetry or painting. Does being submerged in creativity
24/7 present any unusual problems (obstacles, overload)?
JM:There are problems when you work seven days a week and you work
from home. The mind is always full and everything beckons, words, images, concepts. In the middle of all of this errands and
bills keep trying to get my attention. It gets complicated trying to schedule each task, get it all done-the creative and
the mundane- and to keep free of chaos. The studio gets cluttered with my canvas and drawings on paper and all of the sketch-books
and journals I work with.Before starting any new work I have to organize my
space. This might be a ritual as much as a necessity.
A major drain
on creative energy is switching roles between designing the work, executing it and then marketing it. I have to work from
different sides of my personality in being a secretary, financial wizard and even a salesperson. There is also studio isolation
to deal with. To get to the "deep talk", the raw and unfiltered essence of the ideas, I need an incredible amount of time
alone. This keeps me from maintaining more than one or two friendships in the town I live in. I do maintain phone relationships
with -old-friends who don't live near by. Time spent with people has the same intensity for my as doing my artwork. Sometimes
the energy spent with acquaintances does not come back to you. Staying focused in the studio is the most important ingredient
in the discipline it takes to get the work done but getting out into the community with people is mandatory for my sanity.
Trying to figure out a balance between time spent alone in the studio and time socializing is beyond me most of the time.
It feels like
I am trying to clear from the inside out and the outside in at the same time. Overload can also come from trying to measure
what I have "produced" everyday instead of remembering that there is a lot that goes on internally before I physically start
to paint. The spirit takes more time to warm up than the hand needs to produce the work.
RD: Do you have
a routine that you follow, as far as creating goes?
JM: The more
you work – the more you work. I start at – mostly because I love to watch the sunrise-start with my Tai Chi, breathing and sword work.
In summer I have to get out early if I'm getting out because of the heat.So
I go to the lake and walk a mile or so – birding. After that, a few errands to keep the house running, and into the
studio by around ten…work till I try to sit with my Chinese tea pots and teas several days a week around and transition
into dinner and preparing for the next day.Then it’s about two more hours
of work. This is mostly prepping canvas for the next day, varnishing finished work, putting background colors on to be drying.
Sometimes I begin painting again at or reading.
RD: Is there
cross-pollination?By that I mean one media influencing the other – poems
inspired by paintings/drawings or vice versa?
JM: There is
much influence back and forth between painting and writing…words inspire concepts but the process is unknown to me.
I read everything; and a few years ago I became interested in Artic culture and art – images and words inspired my polar
bear paintings and many poems. I keep 'word' notebooks and 'concept' notebooks on my drawing table. Everything overlaps. When
the urge to write overwhelms the painting – I move in that direction and add piles of handwritten pages to my desk for
seasoning before revision. Until you asked the question I did not realize that this cross-pollination only works in one direction-the
poems-phrases-words- influence the painting but it doesn't seem to work the other way around.
RD: You live in one of my favorite areas. From what I've seen of your work, you don't seem
to draw from your surroundings directly .I'm wondering if this is true? I can't imagine how that landscape can't have an influence
on you in some way. If it does, could you describe what it is and how it affects/influences what you choose to document as
JM: So…I live in the beautiful southwest-with the light and landscape and vistas---and
I paint polar bears. It is true, more often than not, that people expect “signature” images in painting and native
references in writing if the artist lives in a specific, culturally encoded area. A New Mexico critic, after viewing one of
my shows, said it was like a rainy day in an other wise sunny southwest – referring to the idea that there was nothing
in the work that showed a southwest influence. I'm not sure what that means, everyone here cannot be expected to paint coyotes.
Later I saw his paintings -they were all about Buddhism and mandalas and though Daoism lives everywhere, he too didn't include
the southwestern sun. The influence of living in this vastness is deeply internal – something about inside and outside
having access to each other, something about chance animal encounters…sitting eating lunch when a bear wanders close,
watching it forage for half an hour. The answer is not easy. I have traveled widely and lived in seven states, but the desert
holds me stronger than anywhere else. The desert has no tree line boundaries to stop the mind. I assume its influence shows
in the evocative-mysterious quality of my work and not in specific images and colors. You live in the “borrowed”
desert –never own it, can never explain it – it becomes “Fuga”-nature, that is, your friend, a surrogate
person, you borrow the flavor and mix it into something that is exactly yours without the literal representation of the elements
of the southwest that are highly recognizable to everyone. Does it 1nfluence me?Absolutely.
RD: What new
projects are in the works?
JM: Each week
seems to have more stuff to accomplish than the last. I am preparing for a solo show this summer.The new paintings require a new format I am working with quiet images and soft colors, but at the same
time I am drawn to the opposite feelings of expression – dynamic, bold and primitive, living at the poles, doing quiet
backgrounds while the sun is blowing its brains out in the forward part of the canvas The work is a vacillation between the
two urges, chromatic and formal pleasingness and going for the throat This juxtaposition also takes place in the writing.
So this is the struggle…and it goes on constantly. The writing is easier in that it comes about all at once then gets
refined over time- if there are polar opposite feelings in the written work, it doesn't matter.Somehow it can be separated out more easily and contained. There are poems and some prose in process and
when ready, will be sent out for (hopefully) publication, and I am setting up slides with an on-line gallery, who will act
as my agent. Not being a computer person this will help with the marketing. I plan a trip to GlacierPark to see birds and bears with a
stop over for lunch at the local pie factory.Also I’d like to swim with
the Manatees in Florida
– when they return.
I would also
like to expand past the limits of my past…the past is full of building blocks but I cannot be attached anywhere. Most
days I begin by trying to say yes to everything.