Alexander Carey-Morgan

The Rick Owens-approved artist chipping away at the human psyche
By Laurence Hills | Art | 21 February 2024
Photographer Laurence Hills

Of all professions, we expect the archaeologist may feel most at home entering Alexander Carey-Morgan’s studio. Inside, you are surrounded by large, seemingly ancient monolithic towers and structures, each of which is partially revealed in its excavation – broken away by hand, hammer and chisel. These works are a reflection of the human spirit, of how we build barriers and blockades around our inner vulnerabilities and complex core. Examining notions of spiritual liberation and self-discovery through bold sculpture and physical acts, it’s no surprise that Carey-Morgan’s practice resonates with Rick Owens and Michèle Lamy: Carey-Morgan is in the couple’s close circle having worked in their furniture atelier.

In conversation with photographer Laurence Hills (who also photographed the artist) Carey-Morgan speaks about leaning on the likes of Bosco Sodi, Anish Kapoor and artists of the Japanese Gutai movement for inspiration; how labels of artist, designer, and performer can be challenging constraints; and the importance of instinct, influence, and fearlessness in his work.

Laurence Hills: You spent your childhood away from the city out in nature? Do you think that influences your work?
Alexander Carey-Morgan: Definitely. I grew up in the new forest and growing up within nature, having that exposure to it gives a connectedness to the earth, the planet and these things that surround us in life. That’s definitely something I like to reflect in my work through the choice of materials.

LH: And following on from there you went to study at Central Saint Martins. What were you studying, and how did that impact your work?
AC-M: So I made the move from the countryside up to St. Martins when I was nineteen to study product design. At the time, I was very intrigued and interested in furniture. What was amazing about being there was being surrounded by other creatives and other like-minded people who would inspire me and we’d grow together. During my time there I started spending a lot of time in the fine art studios and in my later years I started to paint and sculpt. I guess going from product design gave me a different perspective and approach. I also spent a lot of time in the fashion studios, which were always full of energy and were very motivating.

LH: Working and spending time with people in fashion, did that have any knock-on effect in your life now?
AC-M: Totally, That’s how I got in contact with Michèle [Lamy] and how I went to work under her in the furniture atelier of Rick [Owens]. This was a dream and a major moment in my formative creative years. It gave me a different perspective and allowed me to branch out creatively instead of being narrowed into, you know, “You have to do this one thing.” I began viewing creative pursuits as a spectrum where everything interwebs and interlinks. Whether it’s fashion, architecture, sculpture, furniture, design, photography, they all interlink and inspire each other. The beautiful thing about fashion is just how many people are involved, it really is a team mission.


LH: Then coming out of University, how did you position yourself to learn and work as an artist?
AC-M: I was still very much at the beginning of a journey and needed to connect with creatives who were going to teach me, like my time spent with Michèle. I needed to continue this and find artists I could continue to learn and grow with, and from. That led to me working with Muhannad Shono on his piece The Teaching Tree, and meanwhile, I was developing my own creative language.

LH: Who and what are your biggest influences today?
AC-M: There are many, but Anish Kapoor is always going to be my number one because he really changed my life. I remember I was taken to see an exhibition of his in 2009 when I was young. He was the first contemporary artist to be given the whole of the Royal Academy and seeing that really changed my life. Something clicked in me – I saw what sculpture and art could do. I also take a lot of inspiration from Gutai artist Kazuo Shiraga, Bosco Sodi, Joseph Beuys, Berlinde De Bruyckere and a lot of the artists under Axel Vervoordt or linked to that world. As I’ve matured in myself and as an artist, I find my inspiration and influences growing wider and deeper. Also self-observation, my interpersonal connections with people, with friends and family inspires me a lot. And my personal journey, reflections on myself and where I’ve been, where I’m going and who I am. My sense of self is very important to me.

“I’d like to think [my work is] flourishing, that it’s got a beauty to it. But it’s a bit of a shocking beauty.”

LH: Onto your work. There’s an ancient quality to a lot of your pieces – a sense of collapse, decay, and also repair. How would you describe your work?
AC-M: The reason I have the ancient feeling is because I don’t like anything to feel plasticised, new or with a façade. It’s a rejection and reaction to the mass-produced world we live in, where everything feels very fake and glossed over. From my experience that isn’t how life is, you know, things aren’t all glitz and glamour, they’re raw, they’re real. I want that to be reflected in the work. I also want to give a sense of… I would say timelessness. I like to think evocative. I’d like to think [my work is] flourishing, that it’s got a beauty to it. But it’s a bit of a shocking beauty. It feels discovered. I think it feels raw, rugged, like you’re breaking apart these moments of yourself and rediscovering yourself. Moments of discovery are key, and seeing the beauty in things – in an abstract way.

“I don’t like anything to feel plasticised, new or with a façade.”

LH: Your work is broader than just sculpture, which other disciplines interest you as an artist?
AC-M: The two main avenues I’m exploring are my fine art sculpture and the furniture, interior pieces. I’ve recently returned to painting and I’ve been very inspired by performance art recently, so let’s see where that leads. For me, this idea of world building is so critical to creating something which has a full vision.

LH: Does the idea of being labelled as an artist, or a specific type of artist, disturbs you?
AC-M: Definitely. Or at least it did. It played in my head a lot. Which avenue do you go down? If I started doing furniture? Am I seen as a designer? If I started doing sculpture, will I be taken seriously in the design world? If you start doing fashion, are you taken seriously in another category? I think that’s just societal nature, to try and box people in. It likes to label you, you become a bite-sized piece easy to swallow. So people find it uncomfortable, the idea of someone being more than what they’re labelled as. But I believe now is the age of the multifaceted the multi multi-disciplinary. Expression is expression, regardless of the form.

LH: Do you explore those ideas in your work? Being boxed in?
AC-M: In this recent sculpture Sacred Bloom you really see an idea of this core spirit encapsulated in a surrounding box. This box has been broken down, freeing the inner spirit in the core of the sculpture. I’d like to think that’s reflective of how I’ve been feeling about a lot of things. We live in a society where people like to control and box in and I’d like to think the pieces work as a reflection of my self-journey in different stages, the breaking of certain thought patterns, mental states and an un-caging of personal expression.

LH: Anish Kapoor talks about following instinct with full determination. What role do you think fearlessness has in your work?
AC-M: I like to say I’m a chancer. You’ve got to be able to take risks – life’s not fun without the risks, and that’s where you’ll discover something new. That’s where you discover something that hasn’t been done or seen before. It’s in the mystery where the beauty lies. By being fearless, you take that plunge, you take that step into what is unknown. Then you’ll discover something I guarantee will be special and lead on to further things.

LH: Where are you hoping that Sacred Blooms is leading?
AC-M: This series started with A Thousand and One Voices, and then led to the larger pieces like Sacred Blooms. I felt like these were breakthrough pieces, I really felt like I had discovered a language, something that’s uniquely mine. It takes time to develop yourself as a person first, and then your artwork. The two are connected, you’ve got to develop both. But where am I going? Well, what I will say is I’m continuing to expand on this concept of the breaking out, different levels of discovery. And then I want to return to my roots. ‘From the forest, I came and to the forest I shall return’ is the mindset that I’m on. I’ve been studying trees a lot and starting to add these tree elements to the blooms. Because trees represent both the masculine and feminine – something I’m playing with a lot within myself at the moment. And new colours, I’ve been very active with red. For me, it’s the evocative, powerful colour, and it really works with the pieces. But I’d like to start to play around with different colours, and how these can evoke different emotions and tell a different narrative.

LH: So there’s an idea of the artist creating an open half of a circle, allowing the viewer to come in and close it. What role might the viewer have in experiencing your pieces?
AC-M: It’s a feeling, it’s not a thought. I think we obviously have a direction about what the piece is, why I’ve made the pieces, my feelings and what I’ve tried to achieve, which is personal to me. If I was making it for someone else it wouldn’t be my art. I can obviously put some barriers around it, but I can’t control how it affects somebody. Through the narrative that is told, there will hopefully be similar feelings that people will feel. It’ll be interesting for me to hear more opinions, I like the idea of handing over, allowing them to complete the circle on their own.

LH: You went sober last year. Has that affected you as an artist at all?
AC-M: Yes, it gave me the ability to see long-term and understand that things take time. Beforehand, I was rushing, perhaps in a state of panic within my own mind. I started to understand that projects can take six months, a year, two years, it doesn’t matter. The focus is on what you’re creating, your craft and pushing for the piece to be the best version of itself. Sobriety gave me a sense of clarity on this.

LH: Is there a particular book you’re in love with at the moment?
AC-M: I recently acquired these amazing editions of A Thousand and One Nights from the 1920s, the most beautiful looking books. In non-fiction I’ve been obsessed by Joesph Beuys Coyote (I Like America and America Likes Me), it’s truly amazing.

LH: And have you got any shows or upcoming works that people should look out for?
AC-M: There are a lot of exciting things in the works, most of which are too early to speak on, I can say however that I have a show coming up with American Dutch artist and good friend of mine Levi De Jong in the Spring. So look out for that.

Follow Alexander Carey-Morgan on Instagram.

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