Los Angeles based street artist makes a stop in his hometown, Iowa City

Street artist and Iowa City native Morley brings one-of-a-kind art to Prairie Lights Bookstore.

Adrian Enzastiga, Arts Reporter

Walls with chipped paint, exposed brick, plaster ripped away. An abandoned building sitting on the street corner on the brink of collapse. To street artist Morley, these old structures are the foundation for his work.

Los Angeles based street artist and screenwriter Morley came to Prairie Lights Bookstore on Nov. 26, in promotion of his new book Let’s Burn This Moment Down to the Filter: Art and Other Novelties. The book focuses on the important messages he conveys through his street art. It is almost entirely filled with images of Morley’s posters, most of which contain inspirational quotes or words of encouragement.

Morley was born and raised in Iowa City, and said he was excited to be back for the evening. He attended college in New York, majoring in screenwriting.

“I found myself getting frustrated by the fact that there were so many layers of permission that you needed to express yourself,” he said. “I just really wanted to communicate with people. I wanted to feel like there was a connection between what I was doing as opposed to constantly inviting them to try and see something I’ve made. What if I created art and brought it to them, put it in their world?”

Morley started his street art by putting stickers up in the subway. After college, when he moved to Los Angeles, he started making some larger posters to be read by people driving down streets.

“When they’re walking to work or coming home home from school, they might stumble across something I’ve done, and maybe hopefully get something positive from it,” Morley said.

He described his process for putting up his posters. He uses a long paint roller, smearing a layer of glue, rolling out the poster onto the wall, and then coating that in another layer of glue. Morley’s work is technically illegal; he said he has been stopped by police and even handcuffed once, but never arrested.

Morley still works in the screenwriting business, selling television pilots and working on film production, but his true passion seems to lie in the street.

“The street art was so much more gratifying because it felt more pure in the sense that nobody was telling me what I should write,” he said. “I enjoyed the fact that I could create something and have it live out its destiny. In screenwriting, it was like I was always building blueprints for buildings that never got built. I just enjoyed creating something that got to people as it was sort of intended to be.”

Morley said that street art has consumed his life, having two of his books published. His first book If You’re Reading This, There’s Still Time came out in 2014. He said that Let’s Burn This Moment Down to the Filter acts as a second volume to his street art work.

A major idea driving his art is empathy and reaching a wide range of people, which makes his messages topical and accessible. 

“I intentionally leave a lot of my posters a little bit more vague so that people can plug their own life into it. I like to leave my stuff open ended and open for interpretation,” he said. “There are so many different groups of people. I enjoy that aspect of it; there’s really lots of different environments and different communities to try and reach.”

Morley had a humble presence behind the podium at Prairie Lights, but still spoke about his work proudly.

“I am shocked that anyone would want to buy anything from me,” he said. “It’s always a surprise to me and it’s been a happy surprise. With a lack of a game plan, there also has come a lack of frustration or a lack of rejection that I feel. If you don’t have any expectations then you can’t be disappointed.”

Almost every one of Morley’s posters has a drawing of himself, an almost silhouette, with his trademark spiked up hair, black glasses and black shirt. He said that some people have compared his look to angsty band singers.

“One of the things that’s important is wearing your flaws on your sleeve and flying them with pride,” he said. “Your flaws are what make you unique. I think I spent years trying to cover up the things I was embarrassed about myself. No one has exactly your experiences and I think that’s why you can have a unique voice.”

Morley’s current residence allows for him to have an impact on a large group of people who may be in need of uplifting.

“L.A. is full of dreamers and full of people that are chasing some goal that they have. Very often, they are usually working as a waiter or a waitress, or doing some sort of day job that’s paying the bills while they chase their dreams,” he said. “It can become really disheartening. I’ve found that my mission is to to and reach out to those people  and offer them some hope and offer them sense that we’re all sort of fighting the same battle.”

Morley said he tries to create a sense that people are good enough the way they are. He preaches so many inspiring messages through his street art, but until recently, had not done a lot intentionally political.

“When I first started doing it, I had intentionally avoided politics to some degree; it’s very divisive. And then Trump got elected and it all changed,” he said. “Now I feel much more of a desire to try and reach people. It is a delicate balance. I think inherently street art has always been political because you’re doing an illegal act. You’re doing it, saying this message is worth getting arrested over.”