Toronto's east side has long been a hive for creatives, and some of the city’s leading galleries dot the streetscape while studio spaces occupy converted garages and warehouses around the neighbourhood.
Morgan Jones is a mixed media artist and Leslieville local who has been fine-tuning his style for the better part of two decades but only three years ago made it his sole endeavour after leaving a corporate job to pursue his passion.
Completely self-taught, Jones says his art is inspired by the casual observation of the people and life around him. Much of his work is based in photography, which he affixes to wood and then layers with applications of various mediums such as paint, metallic leaf, charcoal and anything else suitable to complete a story.
Jones recently signed on with Dimensions Art Gallery to become a resident artist, and collected an award of merit for his contribution to the 2016 SNAP charity gala on the 31st of this month his piece entitled Hollow Men. His most recent work is a series that reimagines popular fairy tales with an urban twist, and some of the pieces incorporate elements of popular Leslieville and Riverside locales.
We caught up with Jones to talk about his process, the inspiration behind his works and how he took the leap from the corporate grind into a freelance art life.
MORGAN, HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ART?
My artwork is figurative. It is photography based, including other mediums such as paint, pencil, metallic leaf and collage. Being a bit of a daydreamer I try to infuse my artwork with a certain whimsical quality. I enjoy art that makes you think. The more you study my work the more you will typically see. I like to include a lot of subtle messaging in my pieces.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF THE PROCESS?
My favourite part of the process is when you make a mistake. I cannot count the amount of times I despaired as I felt a piece was lost due to a misplaced something-or-other or an over worked this-or-that. It is when in a desperate attempt to save the piece and with nothing to lose that real magic happens. Those mistakes more often than not take me in a direction I previously never would've gone and the results are better than I ever could've imagined.
TELL US ABOUT THE MASK AND BALLOON SERIES — WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO ACHIEVE WITH IT?
I suppose the mask series pays homage to my 15 years spent in the corporate world. For many years while I toiled away in the consumer electronics industry spending countless hours on planes and in boardroom meetings furthering my career, I felt I was venturing further and further away from who I truly was. The masks in this series represent our social selves, the people we pretend to be for the benefit of others, or rather the person I had to pretend to be to survive my work environment. The balloons, in contrast, represent our essential selves, who we truly are within our sincerest hearts. Never underestimate the ability of our hearts to be insincere. The balloons remind us of our hopes and hearts desires floating just out of reach but ever present. The swirls sometimes seen above the subjects' heads are the stories and self doubt that prevent us from ever reaching our hearts' desires. The subjects are seen typically in juxtaposition to their environment, out of place and longingly looking to leave. Despite this I try and portray an element of hope within each piece. Additionally, some common themes in many of my pieces are numbers, which indicate the latitude and longitude of where the photograph was taken; upon close inspection you will often see a clock hidden somewhere within each piece. This reminds us that time is a commodity that should be treasured and spent wisely.
HOW DOES THE EAST SIDE FIT INTO THE CONTEXT OF THIS SERIES?
I love where I live. In portraying my recent series I wanted to use my neighbourhood as a backdrop. My pieces speak to the fact that it can be an unforgiving world and I chose my home as a backdrop to imbue an element of courage, familiarity, and hope. Additionally, community-engaged arts I believe offer both the artist and the community a chance to collaborate and create together. Leslieville and Riverside are rich in history with a strong sense of community, which I wanted to explore through my artwork. Such artistic collaborations can help dissolve the divisions between art, society and life, increase awareness and build meaningful connections between artists and communities.
HOW RECEPTIVE ARE THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE LOCATIONS WHERE YOU SHOOT?
The people have been great! There is a lot of pride in our community and the people have been eager to help. They have been interested in the concept and excited to showcase their establishments through my artwork.
WHAT'S YOUR BACKGROUND IN ART?
While I've never received any formal training other than with the technical aspects of photography through a course I took at Ryerson, I believe trial and error can make for wonderful teachers, they certainly have for me. Art has always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Some mediums I found I was better at than others and it wasn’t until I began to experiment with photography combining it with other mediums I had previously worked with that I found my niche. I suppose my work really kicked off when I joined an artist collective. There is something about working alongside other artists in a creative space riddled with the remnants of artists both past and present that I find to be particularly inspiring.
YOU TOOK A LEAP OF FAITH LEAVING YOUR JOB TO PURSUE ART. CAN YOU OFFER ANY ADVICE FOR SOMEONE THINKING OF DOING THE SAME?
I come from a sales and business background so I was able to look at my creativity as a possible business proposition. There are some amazingly talented people out there, however, if you want to make a living from your art it's not just about talent. It's about marketing yourself just as much as marketing what you create. If you're waiting to be discovered you'll likely be waiting a long time. Work your network. I contacted my old employer and ended up being commissioned to do all the artwork for their Toronto offices and several pieces for their Montreal head office. So be bold and don’t forget to ask for help. I took a leap of faith, I believed in order to go from a senior sales executive to a full-time artist I had to cut all ties and fully immerse myself. Otherwise, I'd always treat my art as a part-time venture. This may not be the approach for everyone. If I could go back I would have ramped up a little more slowly. I would have started networking, creating partnerships and developed a bit of run-rate before I left my job to aid in the transition and the financial burden.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO LIVE ON TORONTO'S EAST SIDE?
The east side sort of chose me. I'd been living in Toronto for about five years having moved from Vancouver. I was looking to purchase a place and was finished with living in the middle of the chaos of downtown. After looking at countless condo developments I developed a longing for stairs. I really missed stairs, living with an upstairs and a downstairs. My realtor came across a small boutique townhouse built on Sears Street here in Leslieville. I took one look at the building designs, which had stairs and made an offer that afternoon. I have been living in Leslieville for six years now. It wasn’t until I moved to this neighborhood that Toronto finally felt like home for me.
DESCRIBE A PERFECT DAY IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
Despite having left my corporate job over two years ago my two dogs still have me up at the crack of dawn. I would start my day with a walk with them down by the Leslieville Spit. I would follow this by doing some creative journaling at Tearo over a coffee. Once finished I would head back home and spend several hours in my studio space. I would likely surface around 2 p.m. and grab a sandwich from the Brick Street Bakery or Completo. I would spend an hour or two late in the afternoon at Tango Palace sitting in a chair by the window with the afternoon sun spilling in taking care of some e-mails and other business that needed addressing. I would wrap the day up with meeting a friend or two for a pint at The Nose, Hitch or Ceili Cottage all of which are minutes from my house.
WHERE CAN WE LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR ART?
People can visit my website at morganjonesart.com or they can arrange a studio visit, or go visit Arta Gallery in the Distillery District or Dimensions Gallery here in Riverside if they wanted to see some work up close and personal.
This is a sponsored post brought to you by Morgan Jones.