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No pussyfooting

A conversation with jewellery designer Morgan Black

I was completely lost on the corner of Parc and Beaubien when Morgan Black opened his front door and invited me into his studio. Black, upon first sight, gives the impression of a kind stranger. “Watch out for the beast,” he tells me, as I almost step on his cat, while making my way into his workspace. Counters and tables lay cluttered around the small room, and the adjoining space is no different. Moving through the studio, I start noticing little things: skulls, moulds, trinkets, and machines. These all contribute to my feeling that his space is an extension of his own self. Though Black apologizes for the mess, it only adds to the overall atmosphere of the studio.

The McGill Daily: How do you describe your work?

Morgan Black: […] Any object I make is more of the reaction of the consumer to the art work than making the object.

MD: What are your most important influences?

MB: Popular media, culture, the occult…

MD: Would you like to elaborate on that?

MB: Google it, kind of thing. In the world there are so many things going on, so I’m interested in the many facets of nature. I get a lot of my inspiration from natural forms and organic forms. I grew up in the country, so being in an urban setting is very familiar, but also very foreign, so it’s a different set of objects I draw from. It’s the juxtaposition of, say, taking a pinecone and casting it in metal, and then selling it in a boutique, and then some fashionista wearing it down a runway. That’s the kind of juxtaposition of forms and shapes and how we react to these forms and shapes … so, it’s like a bouquet of flowers, only with a bouquet of subconscious reactions to objects.

MD: Is it like getting your own personality and viewpoint into the stuff you see around you?

MB: Yeah, well let me tell you, for my artwork I kind of coined the term “neo-urban rococo,” that’s the style of most of my work. So, it could be a ring, it could be a headpiece, it could be an entire room, like rococo was back in the day, if that makes sense.

MD: The famous “pussy rings” [jewellery in the shape of the vagina]: what was your main inspiration for those, and how did it happen?

MB: Okay, the Grimes pussy rings came after meeting Claire [Boucher, aka Grimes] at different parties, and I did a photo shoot with her, and I’d given her one of my skull rings and she was wearing that. Then when we did another photo shoot I gave her one of the pussy rings – as she likes to call it – which was the first one I made. It was almost a joke, because I have vaginas all over my shop.

The reason why I made these is that when I started experimenting with mould making, I used to do a lot of body piercings, so I’d see a lot of women’s bits. Then, someone asked me to mould them, and I was [just] learning how to do this so it sort of caught on fire, and that was in Halifax. What do you do with these objects, right?

Working at the job I’m working at now (a means to an end), a client came in wanting a pin that was like a vagina and a flower. I basically had to take one of these preexisting vagina moulds I had and shrink it to make a pin out of it, so I got all of these objects lying around that were basically moulded, reduced vaginas. Then one day, I made a ring out of it, and it was like super chichi fashion, it was sort of vulgar but chichi enough that anyone could wear it.

I gave one to Claire and she wore it in a photo shoot, and [then] she went away and came back famous and asked me to design a bunch of merch for her. So that’s basically how it came about.

MD: How did you begin  your designing career?

MB: I’ve always been making stuff, and it all kind of started out like making stuff in my backyard. Then I went to art school, and after that I used to own a piercing and tattoo shop, so that sort of consumed my life for a few years. Then I moved to Montreal, because I had a job with an eyewear company, Harry Toulch Vision, and they basically did industrial design. “Designer Technician” was my official title, and it started from that. That was eight years ago, but at the same time I got a job working for a high-end jewellery company (it used to be called Luka). I was making rings for the president of Rocawear Canada. I did a platinum diamond ring for this guy with a built in LED that went under a five karat blue diamond, and when he squeezed his pinky finger it would light up the LED system and light up the stone. Then, [doing design work] kind of just [snowballed], then I started getting back into artwork more seriously. But I’ve always been doing my own stuff as well, just playing around with different ideas.

MD: So you’ve always had this idea that you wanted to venture into this field?

MB: I just like creating things. One of my totems is a termite. I have to chew stuff up and reconstitute it and spit it out again to survive; [I] get rather cranky if I don’t. That’s basically what it comes down to, and trying to adapt [my] lifestyle around this compulsion to make stuff.

MD: Do you have any upcoming projects you’re currently working on?

MB: Well, I have two business concepts. One is “Morgan Black: the Art,” and then there’s “Cult Members Only.” The Grimes ring would sort of fit into Cult Members Only, which is novelty goods, and promotional items, so I want to get into doing band merch and stuff like that. Morgan Black: the Art is sort of like things you would find in gumball machines; I’m also doing anonymous mask rings…

MD: These are amazing. Do you sell them anywhere?

MB: I don’t sell them in stores or online; I only sell them from one person to another. I give them to a lot of my friends who are travelling and they go and hustle them and make some money to survive, and then I get five bucks! It’s kind of like anarchist Avon. I’m also building a gumball machine to sell my rings.

After a brief, but very intriguing tour of his space, he ends with, “If you want any jewellery, just email me and I’d be more than happy to send you some.” I thank him and head to the bus stop, mulling over pussies, skulls, and creative anarchy.