Crystal Morey is an Oakland based sculptor with a pristine and evocative new series called "Delicate Dependencies" opening tomorrow at Modern Eden. We are delighted to have had the chance to gain a glimpse into her studio process and the enlightening depth behind the work that she creates.
Interview by Jessica Violetta
JV: “Delicate Dependencies” is a new body of work for you, can you tell us where the ideas for these sculptures began? Tell us about the imagery you chose to include.
CM: In Delicate Dependencies, I wanted to create a dreamlike, captivating space; one filled with emotive hybrid creatures, here to warn us of our current trajectory toward environmental downfall. These figures are meant to show the sinuous connections between all living creatures, and the balance that must excites, in a healthy natural world.
I like to research animals that I find relatable in their actions and intriguing visually. In “Delicate Dependencies” I decided to focus on animals from the western United States, creatures that have an interesting history or trajectory, ones closely affected by human expansion.
I am interested in what we consider to be “fringe” or “indicator” species. These creatures are often the first indicators and casualties of environmental change, and are often found at both ends of the food chain – small creatures being susceptible to minute habitat changes and larger creatures affected by disruptions in a long food chain. These interests led me to include creatures such as a brown bear, red fox, peregrine falcon, mountain lion and California bighorn to name a few.
JV: There seems to be new, natural elements in your sculptures, can you tell us about the use of leaves and what they mean visually?
CM: The leaves are a completely new addition and one I am really fond of. I have been thinking about adaptation, natural evolution, and human driven environmental change and the addition of plant life into my work became the next step. Human and animal relationships have been very important in my work and thinking about the entire biosphere led me to this inclusion. I am interested in a chain of elements, of all living things being interconnected and dependent on each other for long-term viability.
I also find that the leaves speak to the delicacy and balance of our rapidly changing environment. They represent the inescapable cycle of growth, fullness and decent, a theme I am very interested in exploring.
JV: I love the phrase that you use when describing part of your influence as “human interdependence with the land and animals around us”. Is it possible for you to elaborate on how exactly this influences you?
CM: So much of what we see and hear about the state of our world is very upsetting. With humanitarian crises, natural habitat destruction, and wildlife devastation at the forefront, I think we can become desensitized, making us unable or unwilling to take in more information. For these reasons I choose a different method. I see “beauty” and “emotion” as having a power to reach people, to share a poignant, delicate and human moment. My hope is to create empathy for our environment and the creatures that live within it. I hope to stir a curiosity rooted in our relationship to plants and animals around us, and that we are here to share this planet together.
JV: You mention in your biography that you had an “alternative upbringing” and I can only assume that, by this, you are referring to being raised in the Sierra Nevada's, can you explain?
CM: Many of my inspirations and interests in the natural world stem from an alternative upbringing, one I closely connected to the landscape around me. For much of my early childhood we lived in unique dwellings without modern amenities such and electricity or pluming and chose not to indulge in television or mainstream radio. This lifestyle allowed for plenty of time to explore the forests, lakes and river canyons of the area, creating a strong relationship in the way I saw myself as a tiny component in vast sea of natural landscape.
As I have become older, with new life experiences, now living in an urban city, my perspective has changed and the world doesn’t feel as large, wild and free. Through living in an urban environment, manipulated and controlled by humans, the fragile quality of the natural world has become more apparent to me. I no longer see natural landscape as an expansive, never-ending space, I see it as a finite, irreplaceable space we must nurture and protect.
Nostalgia, memory and longing also play a distinct role in my work. I often find myself wishing I could return to the naïve child I was, engulfed in the magical wood, filled with imagination and wonderment, unburdened by the realities of today. And yet, I choose to live in the city of Oakland because I don’t want to ignore modern life. I want to be part of the art culture and environmental conversation about what is happening now, and how we as artists can use our voices to encourage ideas to change.
JV: About how long does is take for you to create one of your pieces? Is there a part to the process that you enjoy the most and/or least?
CM: I build all of my sculptures by hand, using porcelain clay. I start with a composition and gesture in my mind, I then visualize the piece with the emotion and thoughts I would like to convey. From there, I source photographic references for human and animal components to reference as I sculpt. I usually start by sculpting the legs, then move to the torso, the head and onto the arms and hands. Once all of the elements are in place, I then work up layers of detail. I love the intricate details like toes, horns feathers, fur, teeth, and the gestural composition I can create in the arms, hand and fingers. Porcelain is a very delicate material that takes time to set up and dry, this means I can often work on multiple pieces during the same time period. Once a piece has been sculpted, it must completely dry before being fired to roughly 2200° F in a ceramic kiln. From start to finish, including drying time, a piece can take about two months. Creating sculptures with porcelain can be very challenging, but I love the history associated with material and the delicacy and translucency I am able to achieve.
JV: Your current work is so gentle and provocative and we are so excited to see it in person. Any ideas of where your art will take you next?
CM: As a full time studio artist, I am continually trying to challenge myself with new projects. I find it important to deepen my interest, themes and concepts while also pushing my abilities. Through this new collection of work, I have enjoyed the new addition of trees, leaves, leading me to new adaptations of plant and animal. In the next year I hope to continue to expand on these ideas and can’t wait to see where I end up!
I really appreciate your time and interest in my work and I am so happy to share my thoughts and work with you! For more information, please visit my website at www.crystalmorey.com or follow my work on Instagram @cmorey! Thank you!
Delicate Dependencies is on display from October 14–29, 2016 at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco.