From stark blacks and crisp whites to a gentle blurring of colour, TLC artist and graduate Morrigan Smith, blends as well as bends lines. His artmaking is a reflection of himself – a fusion of the male and the female.
Morrigan looks to find his personal power and inner truth through his art making. That balance of the masculine and the feminine that mirrors who he is as an individual artist. Where neither is more or less important than the other – they merely offer two very necessary parts of one being.
Early on in his art career, Morrigan was influenced by popular art trends and what other people in the industry were doing. Like a lot of illustrators and video game artists, he borrowed from other cultures.
“As artists we are all mirrors…especially in our early stages.”
This artwork initially was black and white. It was all about quick ideas and gestures, the tones and the values. It was youthful, masculine and powerful.
Working for a period at Weta Digital, Morrigan saw that he was, in reality, just a small part of what was a much larger picture. Morrigan started to realise that what he really wanted wasto do more hands-on art making. He really enjoyed being a part of a larger machine, saying it was a huge privilege to work there, but he felt like he had to get away from the computer for a while.
In re-evaluating his art direction, his dreams and his aspirations, Morrigan saw that his work had become mechanical, that the tools of his trade had got in the way. He felt like his work had taken on a detached, almost other-worldly vibe.
He explained that, “Using a machine, you are part of that machine. It’s robotic, almost alien. The more I did digital the more I began to lean towards the traditional. I felt like I was not creating, that I was simply an enhancement or an extension of a machine.”
Morrigan made the extremely difficult decision to reset and start from scratch. He wanted to try to imbue all of himself into making art, to see what would happen if he took a different path. To think deeper, stay true to himself and expand personally as an individual artist rather than as a small part of a much larger system.
“The most important thing in my life for me is strengthening my individualism.”
In order to do this, he started at the very beginning, enrolling at The Learning Connexion at Certificate level.
Studying creativity and art opened Morrigan up to all sorts of possibilities, the use of colour and textures. He found that he had, “taken for granted the traditional way of making art…. the computer was faster and quicker, but it didn’t have that spiritual feeling.” Getting back to using raw materials was a kind of self-healing process. He was going backwards to learn from artists that he never knew and revisiting old masters, in order to move forward professionally.
What did he discover through this process? That he was a storyteller. And that he wanted to tell stories to others through his paintings and illustrations.
Today he is trying to work more intuitively. To trust himself and understand that by accepting who he is as an individual makes his work sing more truly to others. “Only just now am I coming to understand what that is, and what that actually means.”
“It’s not easy to stand up and be yourself. You become open to judgement. My art is the sum of all of my experience, my knowledge, my tastes, my everything. To be an artist is to put yourself out there. That’s a confronting thing as we are all so self-critical. I always hated everything that I did. Being able to triumph over that and show others my work was really special.”
Morrigan’s portrait subjects are androgynous; of indeterminate sex, neither strongly male nor purely female, nothing so black and white. Instead they have a sense of mystery and intrigue about them. Their outlines as well as gender lines are blurred and indistinct.
As a viewer you want to step up to them and ask - who are you? What kind of world do you inhabit? You wonder - what are they thinking about? How do they feel right now? It is as though you are viewing something private and personal, an intimately raw moment in their life.
In painting these, Morrigan uses traditional oils but, in an echo of his earlier days, he also does digital portraiture. The difference being that now when Morrigan uses a computer, he remains the master of the machine and his tools. He keeps a traditional oil painting look to his digital work, working organically, as opposed to having the computer or the programme’s tools overly influence his artwork style and approach.
When working on a digital portrait, Morrigan approaches the task in much the same way as he would a traditional oil painting. He works only in one layer, building up colour and tonal range in his image gradually, just as you would if you were actually painting. He refuses to use any of the digital magic that is possible.
It is this approach that gives Morrigan his distinctive style.
Morrigan says to expect more blending, more of the androgynously witchy, the dark, the eerie. Lots more fantasy work with a morality underlying it all. He is now studying a Diploma of Art and Creativity (NZQA Level 6) and hopes to do Honours level next year.
He says “What would have stopped me [studying art] would have been myself.”
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