Josie Morway gives the fauna of this world a vintage grandeur, painting animals against backdrops of faded text, and simultaneously marrying realism and nostalgia. Her work is an insight into an entity we only pretend to understand; her painted creatures channel a profound intelligence and majesty. Morway uses her signature impeccable lettering as a vehicle for bridging aesthetics and communication through signage and bike work. Josie’s do-it-yourself spirit, and way with words, give her versatility and a silver edge that never fails to produce innovative art. In this Josie Morway interview, she talks about her inspiration in nature, respect for language and a bike hobby that became a part of her art.
Q 1 || Given your experience painting nature, how would you describe your relationship to the environment and the state it’s currently in?
The state of the natural world, its fragile ecosystems and wildlife, has been one of my biggest preoccupations for as long as I can remember. The way we continue to deplete and disrespect the environment is scary and saddening to me… because of what it means for nature, but also because of what it says about our detachment from the world around us and ultimately from each other and ourselves. I’m sometimes worried by the thought that making art isn’t the most effective way to address this, but it seems that making art is what I’m unavoidably called to do… so, I hope that I can at least have some small influence with my subject matter, in addition to making responsible choices in day-to-day life.
I like to think of my paintings as a plea for a pause, for attention to the small details around us and to the natural world, for respect for its power. Civilization seems to be continuing this high-speed, headlong plunge into overuse, materialism, destruction and general disregard, but I think it’s a plunge that can be interrupted. That’s why I delve so deeply into really intense detail, and why I like to take small creatures and tiny moments and render them larger-than-life and richly ornamented, to underline and celebrate their importance. I’ve been really enjoying painting wildlife with an unwavering gaze fixed on the viewer, demanding attention and asserting its presence; I hope it’s a little confrontational, while beautiful.
Q 2 || You’ve mentioned how much the city you live in affects you as an artist- do you think you will consider relocating anytime soon to gain new inspiration, or do you see yourself staying where you are for a while?
I don’t see a move in my near future because I just bought a really rad home with my partner… it has great studio space, and is in the city but also has access to mountain biking trails and wilderness, so I feel like I’ve scored the best of several worlds. However, it makes me really happy to say that I don’t know where we’ll be in ten years, and that if something inspires us to move I’m sure it’ll be something really exciting. For now, travel is one of the most crucial elements to my creative process. I’ve found it’s really important to me to head out to new places with as little planning or expectation as possible. It seems so valuable to encounter unexpected inputs, people, landscapes, events, rather than just curating experience and seeking out the things we already know we’re interested in. Under-planned adventures allow for real exploration and discovery, and always spark some new ideas.
Q 3 || With regards to your bicycle work- it’s interesting that you connect your artwork to your hobbies: when you try something new, do you right away think about its artistic potential?
I might look for the artistic possibilities in everything I do… but if I do it’s probably subconscious! With bikes it’s more of a lucky coincidence. Biking has always been a huge part of my life, and I find myself surrounded by both riders and bike builders – people who tend to be interested in art and aesthetics as well – and by bikes that are beautiful examples of design and craftsmanship. My partner Tyler is the co-owner of Firefly Bicycles which makes some of the most beautiful hand-built frames around, and I’ve been really lucky to be able to collaborate with them on some projects recently.
Q 4 || Since you find a lot of beauty and inspiration in words, are you a writer yourself? If so, what kind of writing do you do on your own time?
Language is absolutely crucial to me and I do love writing. If you’d asked me what I intended to “be” when I grew up, for a very long time it would have involved writing or journalism. I think that finding the right combination of words is just about the most satisfying experience in life – more so than creating an image that works – but a funny thing happened to my writing practice… I found that I had to impose discipline on myself to get writing done, whereas I couldn’t stop myself from painting pictures even though I didn’t have a clear intention of being an artist. Somewhere I read that you shouldn’t be a writer (or anything, really) unless you feel you have absolutely no choice… and for me it seems that it’s the art that insisted itself upon me and gave me no choice.
Now I am much more of a reader than a writer. I’m always soaking in words, in one way or another. I even listen to audiobooks while I’m painting, sometimes as much as 9 or 10 hours a day, and the language I’m hearing definitely seeps into my work.
Q 5 || What has been the most effective method of self- promotion for you so far?
Good question! In general it seems like one thing just leads to another… like most of the big artistic opportunities that have come my way have come somewhat organically, as a result of participating in the art community. Just having work out there in shows or as part of events, leads to more people contacting me for future events, purchases, and interviews like this. When it comes to my own personal fulfillment, I have to say that Instagram has been the most satisfying. Seeing my followers grow, sharing my progress daily, and receiving comments from all over the world is so much fun. I’m not sure how much it leads to quantifiable things like sales or shows, but it’s gratifying and really changes the otherwise solitary feeling of studio work.
Q 6 || Are there any particular themes or mediums you’ve been wanting to try your hand at?
There are countless new things I want to try. I think a lot about different surfaces and materials, and am curious in seeing how my work would translate onto textiles, for example. Maybe above everything else, I’m really interested in public art and would love to move my work into that sphere, though murals or unexpected outdoor installations. I think that artwork is so much more effective and engaging when it confronts people out in their daily environment, rather than in a contained gallery setting. I’d really like to push the way my work interacts both with my viewers and with the world around me.
Q 7 || How do you inject your personality into signage and lettering?
Lettering is probably not the easiest place for me to inject personality, especially since I have a tendency to be extremely uptight about detail and precision. But I suppose that is my personality! In general though, I try to remind myself that a hand lettered piece is a HAND lettered piece, and that instead of striving for computer-like perfection I should allow my hand and breath to show in the lines.
Q 8 || Lastly, do you have any projects or appearances coming up that your especially excited about?
I’m figuring out my plans for 2016 right now, since the year has just started. I have three brand new paintings underway, and I’m sorting out some locations for larger mural work that I’ve been dying to do.