What happens in the studio shouldn't always stay in the studio. Studio Visits is a series that profiles artists in their studios. We ask them questions, they provide answers, and then we have a discussion about their work. This month: Ann Morton, whose work is currently featured in group shows at Practical Art and ASU Step Gallery.
There’s plenty of material for Ann Morton to work with these days. The Phoenix-based artist works primarily in fiber art, often inspired by social issues and the politics that surround them.
As Congress was preparing to vote last Monday morning on the latest Supreme Court nominee, Morton watched live coverage on the large computer screen that sits atop a long desk inside her art studio.
But she’s hardly a passive observer. During the broadcast, Morton welcomed a curator who’d come to pick up artwork for an exhibit focused on getting out the vote.
“I’m really compelled by politics,” Morton says.
Metal speculums, the tools used in gynecology exams, sit piled atop a rug beneath a large work table near Morton’s desk. Her latest work, an installation called When I’m 64, includes 64 of the silver duckbill-shaped objects, set inside woven red holders she calls V-scrunchies.
Morton turned 64 in June, and had a hysterectomy the following week. The installation also includes two red roses that signify her daughters. It’s evidence that Morton’s personal experiences inform her work as well.
Born and raised in Phoenix, she’s married to fine art photographer Bill Timmerman. Their living room became Morton’s art studio back in 2016, when she needed extra space to create a large-scale installation called Re-Thanks, which was shown last year at Arizona Science Center.
Re-Thanks comprises thousands of flowers made by Morton and community members using recyclable materials, as a way to honor workers who cull recyclables from trash. The project was part of an artist residency with the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, which was based at the 27th Avenue Solid Waste Management Facility.
She’s still got bags full of extra materials gathered at the dump, sitting inside a room along with shelves of books, art supplies, sewing equipment, and the large wooden loom she moves into her studio space whenever she needs to use it.
Nearby, there’s a former library that became the couple’s living room, a kitchen where rinsed out plastic bags sit drying in the sunlight, and a bedroom with simple furnishings such as the cabinet that holds recent art purchases, including a vintage muffin tin painted by Phoenix-based Laura Spalding Best.
Eventually, it’ll get installed on one of many walls filled with artworks, including dozens created by Arizona-based artists. Morton’s own quilted image of artist Vincent van Gogh, ear detached, hangs on one wall, next to a large quilt from the Gee’s Bend quilter’s collective in Alabama. One of Morton’s earliest quilts, featuring patterns made with roach imagery, sits folded close by.
Often her work addresses social issues, such as homelessness, military aggression, and gender stereotypes. Sometimes, it’s rooted in presidential politics. George W. Bush inspired a tapestry chair called Seat of the Secret Society, and newspaper headlines during Barack Obama’s first term inspired samplers embroidered with various milestones.
More recently, she’s created works that reference President Donald Trump. For a group show held after his election, she created a simple white handkerchief embroidered with red and blue thread, altered with editing marks to read “We are fucked.”
Since then, she’s made four more, inspired by Trump verbiage ranging from “shithole countries” to “fake news.” Collectively, they comprise the Proof-Reading series, which will be part of the “Subversive White” exhibition opening in spring 2019 at Lisa Sette Gallery. "It's possible there will be more of them," Morton says of the series. She's already playing with a few phrases, written on a list posted near her computer desk. "It's agonizingly tragic but fun at the same time," she says.
Currently, Morton’s work is featured in “The 15th, 19th and 26th: Get Out the Vote” exhibit at Practical Art, which runs through the end of the month. And it’s part of the “10 Artists/2000 Speculums” show that’s up through Saturday, October 13, at ASU’s Step Gallery in downtown Phoenix.
Ten years ago, Morton was presenting her senior exhibition inside a different ASU gallery. In 2008, she earned her BFA in fibers at ASU. In 2012, she earned her MFA. “My goal was to get my master's before I turned 60,” Morton says. “I got it when I was 58.”
Her work has been recognized both in and beyond Arizona. In 2012, Morton was a finalist in the prestigious ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 2013, she received an artist grant from the Contemporary Forum support organization for Phoenix Art Museum. In 2016, the got the Mayor's Arts Award in visual arts.
It all followed a long, successful career in graphic design.
Morton studied graphic design at ASU during the 1970s, before launching a 30-year career that included being partner/owner and president at Thinking Caps Design. “I decided to explore my voice as a singular artist,” Morton says.
Nowadays, she moves seamlessly between studio art and public art projects. “I’ve been doing studio work for the last year and a half, which feels a little self-indulgent for me.” Soon, she’ll be focused on Watershed for Scottsdale Public Art, comprising a large-scale installation with a community participation component, which will be staged in the desert surrounding Taliesin West as part of Canal Convergence 2019.
“The community work is really where I can make the most difference,” Morton says.
Here’s a look at Morton’s take on New Times’ studio visit questions:
Tell us about your work in haiku format.
What artist(s) are you really into right now?
This is hard — it is ever changing depending on what I’m working on at the moment, but here goes:
Local: Chris Jagmin
National: Annie Albers
International: El Anatsui
What are you reading?
It’s been a big summer for reading — here are my favorites:
All the Light We Cannot See — Anthony Doerr
The Lowland — Jhumpa Lahiri
Educated, A Memoir — Tara Westover
Circe — Madeline Miller
Between the World and Me — Ta-nehisi Coates
What's the last TV show, film, or video you watched?
TV: Binged on all six seasons of The Sopranos while working on the speculum piece.
If you could collaborate with any artists, alive or dead, who would it be? And why?
Alexander Calder. Some time ago, I got a book titled Calder at Home. I loved the look and style of their home — not fancy, but brimming with creativity. He was just as happy to make a toilet paper holder, a necklace for his wife, or a toy for the grandkids as he was building a major Stabile or Mobile sculpture. He just loved the act of making and figuring out how to make it work.
What was a recent exhibition you saw and what did you think of it?
I went to see this year’s Contemporary Forum artists at the Phoenix Art Museum. I’m so impressed with the way our local artists have been shown and honored with significant space with these awards. The work sings when it is displayed with such respect. It is a thrill to see friends’ work being shown and elevated in this way.
Jeff Koons or Marina Abramovic? And why?
No question — Marina Abramovic! Her work has had a fundamental effect on my own practice. It is so profoundly direct, human, and elegant in the simplicity of its staging. My favorite works of hers are “The Artist is Present” and my very favorite, “Imponderabilia” — brilliant!
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What's the best advice you've ever received?
“You are being too timid.” The circumstances surrounding this critique remark somehow gave me the permission to stop piddling around and be brave and loud in my work, even though face to face it may be more difficult for me to express the profundity of my intentions (profound to me, at least).
What are you currently working on?
Exploring work that examines the language that is being carelessly used in our public discourse these days. And I have a few feelers out for new opportunities. Who knows what is coming up next!?
What's your most valuable tool as an artist?
Faith in the work.