Being a visual, performing and recording artist is no easy task but Portland, Oregon based Morgan Buck takes it all in his stride. Wether it is burning up the state in his Kaufmanesque band 'Child PM', shooting Macro-Panoramas using his iPhone or putting the finishing touches to his three dimensional crumple paintings Morgan gives it his best shot. In this interview he talks about the artificial reality of our times, his band and the best places to eat in his home town.
Can we safely say that we are now living in an age where the sense of reality is artificial courtesy of the internet and rampant social media?
I think that is safe to say. The sad thing is that it will probably get more artificial before it gets better. Technology that becomes popular usually only goes away once it becomes obsolete: gets replaced by something even more efficient at doing its job. Ten years from now it will probably be virtual reality or something like that. We will nostalgically look back to times like now when things were so real that the United States elected a reality TV star as president. Who knows? Twenty years from know it might be some fictional character in the Whitehouse. Corporations are people in the US, so as long as they’re mascot is created in the US and over 35 years old I think a majority of the supreme court would be ok with it. As long as the info marketing was good, never underestimate the voting power of stupidity.
My macro-panoramas touch on this idea of the artificial reality created by the Internet. The macro panoramas are these photographs of images on Google taken with the panorama mode on an iPhone and a 10x jeweller’s loupe in front of the lens while photographing the laptop screen. The distortion from this process blurs and glitches the images into looking like altered spaces, or completely synthetic landscapes where only subtle fragments of the original are still visible. This is the essence of truth on the Internet: the user cannot understand what it is that they’re looking at because anyone can post anything and say it’s anything. We make our associations between cyberspace and reality, and if we’re not careful they become blurred together, and a person can see whatever they want to see.
How did the concept of your ’Crumple Paintings’ come about?
Before I came to grad school, my painting was very figurative had strange narratives in some cases, but were mostly composites of different visual situations I was attracted to. For example lots of rooms and spaces on fire, paintings within paintings, shadows of cowboys smoking cigars, elephant puppeteers, etc. Many didn’t have any specific meaning, but a sensation of significance was there, similar to Surrealism, but not dated.
Near the end of that period, my brother got a rare and aggressive form of cancer. During his treatment, we started watching Star Trek TNG a lot on Netflix. They can cure cancer on star trek. We also liked Data the android character, because his intelligence and consciousness were transcendent, but also he had no emotions to complicate his life.
Obviously, that was a traumatic time in my life. I started to become obsessed with aliens and paranormal stuff at that time. I needed a miracle, but I’ve never believed in God. The motifs in my work started to include images of aliens and UFOs. The chemo changed my brother from a healthy looking 29-year old into a bald, bloated creature half old man half grey.
Within the first month of being in grad school, my brother died. Strange enough I didn’t feel out of control, and I didn’t cry very much at all, but I no longer felt like a normal human.
This was when I decided that rather than painting images of aliens I should paint like an alien. I started to imagine what a deferent dimensions art history timeline would look like. I thought of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings as being an example of the most primordial painting style, because it was simpler than painting with a brush. His approach was just dripping paint and smacking it directly against the surface of an upstretched canvas on the floor. With Pollock’s work being the very first painting technique in my alternate dimension’s timeline, the next evolution would be to crumple the canvas on the floor to control the flow of the paint. I wanted a lot of control over the crumples, so I evolved the stretcher bars out for a formable wire mesh structure. The drippy pouring medium and mono printing techniques I used early on I managed to get away from relatively fast. I no longer think about alternative timelines or narratives, but the wire mesh and the crumpling have remained in the process of those. The alien painting has now in my mind been replaced with rarified painting, but the rarified painting came out of the alien painting. I just don’t need a sci-fi association with my work.
Could you talk us through their creative process?
I first make the wire mesh support with the stainless steel ¼ inch stuff that is available at hardware stores. I use thin muslin, which is thinner than canvas and crumples more dramatically. I sew it on the mesh with thick upholstery thread. I prime the canvas much of the time with clear gesso with colour mixed into it. The coloured gesso bleeds through the muslin, which gets a head start on colouring the back. I start with the canvas fairly flat, and I start painting the front. Every time I get bored with what I’m working on, I’ll crumple the painting and give myself a new situation to react too. It’s sort of like going through ideas with a note pad and crumpling the ideas that suck and throwing them over your shoulder. Eventually, I get to a place with the crumpling where the relationship between the image and the crumples feels very resolved. That’s when I usually start thinking about finishing touches.
To finish, I will take my airbrush and paint the backsides that I know will be visible when the piece on the wall. I want it to work with the front side despite the fact that the back has exposed wire mesh. I’ll be tweaking things here and there editing out what I don’t want and beefing up the intensity of the things that I do want, like in Photoshop or something.
You are also in a band called ‘Child PM’ which you founded with your friend Justin Stimson, could you tell us a bit more about that?
Child PM is a Kaufmanesque performance comedy rock group that Justin and I are doing. We play two distinct self-absorbed characters whose outrageous personalities and backstory drive their music and the impromptu comedy antics. My character, Carl Crisp and Justin’s character Crispin McCarls Jr. start a band with the intent to be more famous and influential than the Beatles. When they meet they find that they were married and divorced from the same woman. After bonding over their newfound divorcee comradely, they find that they both miss their role as a step dad. Thus, they commit to gain full custody of their ex-wives children from a previous marriage as their full-time ex- step kids.
The divorce also had psychological and financial impacts on the characters as well. Carl Crisp became a narcissistic, sellout, poseur Rockstar hell-bent on money, power, and being worshipped as a musical genius who answers to no one (think Donald Trump meets Liam Gallagher meets Motivational speaker). While on the other hand, Crispin McCarls Jr. became an unhinged homeless drunk who has to balance his love for his step kids and living in the woods with his love for liquor and disorderly conduct. The two of them both have a delusion that they are immortal and created God as a robot before the beginning of time, on the Perfection Plane of Existence (a dimension where things like truly straight lines and true right angles are not just mathematical abstractions but are possible in nature), within the institution of the Perfection Brotherhood. After creating the universe, with the soul intent to give Child PM a place to record, the god robot wanted to participate in all the fun and therefore became a sadistic clown who makes appearances in Child PM recordings.
Child PM has been active on and off since 2009. I’ve been playing music with Justin since 2004 or so. He was always in bands with characters. I was in his first character band called the Marmots briefly, which is these strange fantasy creatures who sing like Muppets. It was already so developed by the time I joined that it was hard to find my place in it. I played two shows and bailed. Then around 2009 I wanted to be in a band, but didn’t want to work hard practising or care about music. I also wanted people to perceive us as the best band ever also, so that was the basis of Child PM: being the best band by understanding that people don’t care about music, musicianship, or bands having a sound. We are the anti-band: a disruption to the idea of a band. For us, it is only about entertaining the audience at 100%. We are constantly bragging about how we’re better than every other band (we play a song “We are Your Brand New Favorite Band” for the first song of every show), so that association with the rarified experience of seeing Child PM becomes solidified in the audiences mind. It’s the difference between being a musician and being a rockstar. We do have the hooks in the songs too, but we really don’t even need to play songs. We could just go up on stage and talk shit, and as long as we have instruments we’re an image of a band, and we would still be more memorable then the serious musicians 99% of the time. Last show we played in Portland we stopped in the middle of the set and took selfies for five minutes. The crowd ate it up. That is so beautiful to me.
What’s it like living in Portland, Oregon as a creative?
Portland used to be very cheap to live in. In 2004, my friends and I lived in a big four-bedroom house for $1200 a month. Now you can get a studio apartment for $1200 a month thanks to gentrification, of you can even get an interview to rent it. It sucks for that reason.
There are not many art buyers here either. Galleries open, there’s a brief opportunity to form some relationship with the owners and get a show, then the gallery closes eight months later. The art galleries that can move work are always very hesitant to try showing work that they’re not sure that there’s a market for. So you wind up seeing the same handful of artists who have the reassuring resumes show over and over again. It can be kind of a bore.
There’s been a lot of hype about Portland over the last ten years. Don’t believe it. Don’t move here. The rivers, the beach, and the mountains are still cool as a surrounding area, but the roads to all that stuff are past capacity and have moonscapes of potholes. The traffic is now a nightmare. Portland was not built to be a big city physically or economically. I really want out, but I don’t know exactly where I would go.
Could you remember your earliest memory of the steps towards being an artist?
I did a lot of art as a child as many children do, but I got a little more involved. I was obsessed with Sonic the Hedgehog and drew illustrated books about different plotlines I would imagine. I learned to sew also and hand stitched a bunch of small action figure sized stuffed animals of Sonic and related characters. I made one sonic the hedgehog drawing and made a cardboard frame for it and tried to sell it to my next-door neighbour for ten dollars. She wouldn’t buy it. That was my first attempt at being an artist. That period must have been 3rd or 2nd grade.
In your body of work titled ‘Macro Panoramas,’ you use an iPhone 5 and a computer screen to create works of art, Was this something that came about by accident or experimentation?
My friend Jason Horvath and I were on a road trip to our friend Amanda Beekhuizen wedding in Arizona. We all went to grad school together and are all artists. Arizona is where Amanda, her family and her husband live. Jason is primarily a Photographer, which up to that point I had very little interest in photography as a medium. Jason takes a lot of food porn shots of the things associated with food, but never directly the meal it’s (dirty plates, etc.), and so he carries a jewellers loop to get the macro shots with his phone, so he can get down and dirty. I had always thought about the panorama mode as a kind of a hand held scanner, but never had much interest in the images, because it just looked like something someone did while taking a bad panorama. Without the loupe, they are not very interesting, because the photos are usually too clear. Moving the phone with the nearsighted lens on it focuses the image in and out creating a perceivable spacial contrast where there is none in reality.
We had stopped at his parent’s house in Carson Nevada, and I saw him pull out the jeweller’s loupe and start taking shots of his food at dinner. I asked him about it, and he handed to me to play around with on my phone. So within ten minutes I had made my first macro panorama and had shown it to Jason. He immediately recognised it as a breakthrough in Photography only possible with the phone and the loupe, and he was a little jealous that he didn’t come up with it. I started doing it to paintings and images that were around the house and making them come to life in ways we had never seen. I started posting them on Facebook and people had no clue what the images were and though they were paintings I had done with the airbrush. We went to a bar in Tuscan Arizona a few days later on the trip, and I told Jason to pull out his phone. I started doing the first Internet-based ones off the screen of his phone right there in that dark dimly lit bar in Tuscan.
I consider Jason to be one of my best friends and my photo tech. He shoots the images for the website, and he taught me how to print photos and cut mats. I really owe him a lot without his photo wizardry I’d be behind where I am today.
What are your goals for this year?
My goals for this year are to get my work out of Portland. I’m looking for representation, and I would like to start showing the Macro-panoramas a lot. I can produce many, many, of those. I could do ten solo shows a year with those and never show the same piece twice. I just need some venues that are willing to give me a shot. Of course, I’m always down for group shows too.
Next fall I’m going to be doing the Pilotenkueche residency in Leipzig Germany October through December. There’s going to be some group shows associated with that. The first one will be within the first few weeks and then the second one will be a big one at the end. I’m going to make lots of macro panoramas for that, but I want to make a huge crumple painting grand piano sculpture. Space is going to be big, so why not. I’m going to have it sit keys crashed into the ground like its fallen from the sky like in a Wiley Coyote cartoon. It’s not going to be super literal either. Going to be very abstracted and coloured crazy.
Child PM is going to do a music video this summer, and I’m going to make a Crumple Piano for that also. Were going to have an 8-second scene where the characters are dreaming about being Guns and Roses. The scene will be like the November Rain video. Crispen McCarls Jr. is going to be playing the crumple piano in the desert with Axel’s red headband on, and Carl Crisp is going to be Slash on top of the piano with the guitar, cigarette but and the top hat. He’s even going to have his shirt off under his jacket to reveal a chest covered entirely with rub on Lisa Frank tattoos. We’re going to film that scene with a drone to get those aerial shots like in the November Rain video. God, it’s going to be badass. The song is called AA Meeting Time, and so most of the music video is going to be about Crispen McCarls Jr.’s drinking habits and his interactions with his support group and the clown god robot, etc.
Your band Child PM is recording its second album titled, Step Dads in Harmony. When is it due to being released?
We’re going to try and get it out before the end of summer. We don’t have a specific date.
What are the best places to grab breakfast in Portland, Oregon?
Genies. Country fried steak with mushroom gravy. Bomb. Food is one thing that Portland does have going for it. You can believe that hype.