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Chris Morton - A Life In Design

Stiff Records,Barney Bubbles, Influences and More

By Mike Singleton - MikeydredPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 9 min read
9
The Art of C-More-Tone

An Interview With Chris Morton

Although I was familiar with his work, I first met Chris Morton at his exhibition at the Baltic in High Bridge with my friend Katie and we got chatting and I asked if he would do my artist interview. He is a great guy and sent me a full interview which you can enjoy below.

The exhibition made me realise that one man basically was responsibly for so much of the record art that has been in my collection and may possibly be in yours.

Today he came to visit and we chatted and listened to Brinsley Schwarz and Man’s “Christmas at the Patti” of course and he promised a badge he a done when he worked with Man.

You can read about the exhibition here

And one of his influences was the great Barney Bubbles, and you can read more about him here.

Chris’s website is here and his Instagram is here

But this is Chris Morton’s moment so read on and find out about this innovative and impressive artist. I've left the dotted starts and ends to the interview answers because I want this to be so much Chris's work.

What Is Your Preferred Artistic Medium and Why?

…a ‘dotted pages’ notebook with a mechanical pencil and a digital scanner - because they’re the portal to endless possibilities…

…after that, it’s analogue & digital collaging more often than not…

What Inspired You To Do What You Do Initially And Who Or What Inspires You Now?

…my earliest influences were animated cartoons & comic strips - particularly anti-authoritarian ones like Bugs Bunny & Daffy Duck and Alfred E Newman’s Mad comic…

…by the time I was doing O & A Levels my biggest influences were Alphonse Mucha and Pop Art with Andy Warhol & Roy Lichtenstein in particular…

…that led to a pre-art school Foundation Course - at Bath Lane, Newcastle in 1972 - which completely changed everything for me - when my love of music collided with a newfound visual worlds combining multiple & moving imagery and that set up a lifelong romance - starting with Andy Warhol’s ‘Plastic Exploding Inevitable’ at the Factory and discovering The Velvet Underground…

Then, going to Norwich School of Art (for the pre-BA degree course; a DipAD - Diploma in Art & Design…) led to my first mind-blowing visual experience with the discovery of psychedelic music concert posters & underground comics - particularly from San Francisco with comic artists like Victor Moscoso and music poster & album cover artists like Rick Griffin and Mouse & Kelly in particular…

The next visually creative ‘moment on my road to [design] Damascus’ was, for me, a genuine paradigm shift - it came when I realised that Dada’s approach not only railed against the then art establishment world but also all forms of socio-cultural authority - and for me, Kurt Schwitters and his ‘Merz’ (a joke on ‘merde’ or shit…) perspective embodied Punk & New Wave’s attitude in its visual approach…

…this crystallised for me when I was first working for Stiff and saw the design work Devo had done for their extraordinary & ground-breaking cover version of ‘Satisfaction’ & ‘Mongoloid’ that Stiff was about to release… …this, of course, was all before we knew or understood that were reacting to or being ‘post modern’ without consciously knowing or realising that that’s what was happening at the time…

Then social revolutionaries, The Situationists, led by political theorist Guy Debord & artist/designer Asger Jorn were my next big influence - introduced to me by the sadly late & peerless Barney Bubbles - who I was immensely lucky to have as a friend & mentor when first working freelance for Stiff and then when I became their first art director (when co-founder Jake Rivera left with designer Barney, Elvis Costello & Nick Lowe to form Radar Records and I was offered the job by the new MD; co-founder Dave Robinson…)

I wanted to do graphic design - hopefully with intrigue & fun - what Dada had done to fine art - especially as I was frustratingly just too young to have been able to get involved - like the Situationists had been with their design & philosophy - in the Paris Uprising of May ’68..!

…I combined the spirit of their ethos - and Dada’s - with my newfound fascination with the visual & design principles of Cubism, the Futurists and, more significantly, Russian Constructivism - a far cry from my acid daze..!

Creatively born out of that ’68 uprising was the mid-70s Paris-based radical art & design collective headed by Kiki & Loulou Picasso; the two founding members of the Bazooka Collective that pushed the principles of media subversion through controversial and ambiguous drawings & collages - a self-proclaimed ‘graphic dictatorship’…

…I was introduced to their hugely innovative stuff by Neville Brody who, marvellously & luckily for me, turned up - not long after leaving the prestigious & influential London College of Print - at the Stiff art dept in late 1980 looking for a job…

…that following year or so - working with Neville - was probably my most constructive, creative & energised period - laying the foundations of my personal ‘graphic art style’ that, by using a professional design studio Process Camera could combine hand-drawn line illustrations & hand-made textures with photo-mechanically created & altered elements to then collage together so as to make the album cover & poster artworks for the printers…

…this was initiated with the more ‘arty’ Stiff stuff I did - like for Lene Lovich & Tenpole Tudor for instance and forged with the run of work for Theatre of Hate (as well as when I did the ‘Fuck Art, Let’s Dance…’ T-shirt and the ‘Home Taping is killing the Industry’ Logo - which it wasn’t..!) — all great fun and hugely rewarding (artistically, not financially..!) despite how long-winded & time-consuming design work was in those analogue days before Photoshop - which was still more than a decade of about-to-be c-more-tone studios away..?!

…coincidentally I got to meet a couple of ‘Bazookas’ when they instigated a swop of our respective designed works - their wanting to do that and the inscribed collection of their magazines & books that they gave me is something of which I am still immensely proud of…

After designing album covers & their promotions as c-more-tone studios I did a Fine Art MA - spending a fascinating first year discovering & researching postmodernism, literary theory and cultural studies - since then and in my subsequent art practices & projects I’ve treated as a guiding principle the American literary critic, philosopher and Marxist political theorist; Frederic Jameson’s influential post-modern-differentiating definition: PARODY redeploys meaning by imitating the myth of originality through repetition…

PASTICHE instead acts as a nostalgic form of borrowing - it is mimicry which homogenises everything in an indiscriminate and seemingly value-free way…Parody can become politically invested - but Pastiche is nostalgic retrieval without ideological motivation…

…That definition resonates so strongly with me because my design ethos was always socio-politically motivated - I believed (and still do…) that it’s important to be able to justify & reason the intentions behind your design choices & decisions and acknowledge your creative influences…

…I’ve long been saddened that many of my fellow designers then and many creative people since don’t seem to mind or notice that their output is a pastiche and too few are driven to ‘politically invest’ their work…

…as I mentioned earlier, of course, I didn’t realise at the time in the 70/80s that we were being ‘post-modern’ - not consciously realising that was happening then - but that makes discovering Jameson’s definition afterwards not so much vindication as inspiring…

…I can’t help but rage “art for art’s sake” against the dying of the light & the Machine - and will ask; please “do not go gentle into that good night”…

Since the MA I have done various socio-political art practices & public art projects - including teaching & lecturing - which can be seen at chrismorton.org - that ‘hub site’ also includes c-more-tone.com

…during all this my other major & ongoing inspiration has been Antonio Gramsci - who was a neo-Marxist philosopher & political theorist (imprisoned for life as a ‘subversive’ by Mussolini, whose secret notebooks were smuggled out just before he died…) and his influential & ground-breaking Theory of Hegemony - about how we’re subtly conned & coerced into believing capitalism is a ‘free choice’ - it’s a cornerstone of my ‘after-covers’ art life and the starting point for my current, but fiscally-challenged, practice-led PhD research project ‘Fuck Dance, Let’s Art…’ (Cultural Hegemony in an Age of Endarkenment…) My research is focused on popular culture and music & design in particular - and how the ‘top-down’ socio-political pressure of hegemony & its cultural gatekeepers subsumes & homogenises ‘bottom-up’ grass-roots creative & rebellious sub-cultural insurrections that initially gain traction - from skiffle, rockabilly & rock’n’roll; to punk; then house & rave; and hip-hop/rap…

Are You Influenced By Anyone?

…yes, a lot of people & ideas - most of whom I’ve just mentioned…

Who Are Your Favourite Artists In Your Sphere?

…for graphic art & design, it is Barney Bubbles - who I referred to before…

…for visual artists in general - all the above influences are favourites as well…

What Was The First Piece Of Art That You Made? (At School of After)

…I still have a strong & fond memory from primary school in North Shields of being very happy & engrossed in making a balsa wood model of St Mary’s Lighthouse and painting the island’s rocks & sea around it…

What Are You Most Proud Of?

…I’m not sure - creatively, probably the ‘Fuck Art, Let’s Dance…’ T-shirt is just ahead of doing the first punk single bag for The Damned’s New Rose…

How Do You Feel About Performing Or Showing Your Work In Public?

…i’m very keen on explaining the influences, references & processes involved in my work - old & new…

What Is Your Worst Artistic Experience?

…I don’t know - I guess the ideas & projects I had rejected..?

What Has Been Your Most Fulfilling Moment?

…really hard to say - although recently having the exhibition of my album covers & posters was really brill - especially seeing all the posters together on the walls for the first time - as most of them had been rolled up in storage for over 40 years..!

…although also finding out there was still interest in my work and getting to explain on ‘guided tours’ how it was done doing was/is very special…

Where Are You Going Next?

…I’m currently working on a fascinating project with Conrad Milne - the Dystopian Artist - and the Theatre of Hate celebrating the 40th anniversary of their famous Westworld album - we’re collaborating as ‘c-more-dystopia’ and bringing everything metaphorically & literally full circle using my original roughs, designs, unused/unseen elements and the actual 7”, 12” & LP’s artworks for the printers to produce a ’digitally remixed & visually re-engineered’ set of illustrated covers & designs for 18 of their songs from that period - which we’ll be touring an exhibition of soon - starting at the NCA (Newcastle Contemporary Art at Highbridge Works…)

How Do You See Your Creations In Your Mind?

“… in my ‘mind’s eye’, the ideal version of a piece of work has almost always been like looking into a scene in a toy pop-up theatre stage with the imagery spread over multiple semi-transparent ‘scene backdrops’ that are all showing at once…”

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Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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Comments (4)

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knockabout a month ago

    Fascinating interview. And the Mad Magazine influence brought back a ton of memories for me.

  • Great questions. As one who has done about 40 or more interviews I must say you did a very good job. I like that one of his influences is Alfred E Newman's Mad magazine.

  • J. Delaney-Howe2 years ago

    Very good interview! Great questions.

  • Lightning Bolt2 years ago

    ❤️❤️❤️

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