Interview by Wolk Morais designers Brian Wolk and Claude Morais.
Carly Jo Morgan’s aesthetic sensibility and lifestyle are defined by her eloquent juxtapositions. Her creative canon encompasses the fields of music, fine arts, and design. Her career has transported her from the urban streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn to the high desert of Joshua Tree, and, as of late, the secluded and fabled community of Topanga Canyon. Morgan’s atelier/home is a rustic cathedral that serves as a sacred workshop for her contemporary and visually compelling work. Craft and high art are seamlessly merged in her paintings, jewelry, and, most recently, her furniture line, “Made by the Morgans,” on which she collaborates with her husband Matthew Morgan. Austere in its form yet intimate in its expression, it’s difficult to separate the oeuvre from the lifestyle that the Morgan’s collectively sculpt, draw, craft, and curate, nestled in the forest just 20 miles west of the thriving metropolis of Los Angeles.
So how did it all begin?
I never went to art school. I just followed the crazy trajectory that unfolded around me. I studied psychology at NYU and in my senior year I did a silk screening elective course. I created a room with octopus wallpaper, and a friend of mine who was a techie and more business minded saw the potential for a wallpaper business, which at the time was ahead of the curve of the wallpaper craze. So we made a really cool website that was interactive, The New York Times wrote a story, and that was it. After a few years of doing that, it was ready for me to creatively move on to a new adventure. I decided to move to Mexico, so I packed up my Williamsburg apartment, sent all my belongings back to Los Angeles, and the weekend before I was scheduled to depart, I bought my tickets, and met Matthew at a workshop upstate. I knew he would be my husband right away. My friends thought I was crazy, but it was literally love at first sight. When I asked him where he lived on the drive home, he said Brooklyn, so it was back to Brooklyn for me!
Is that when you starting making jewelry?
We spent the next two years going back and forth between upstate and Brooklyn, and I began whittling small sculptures and having them cast into jewelry for friends. Erin Wasson ended up getting a piece of my work through a friend of a friend, and wore it during Fashion Week. The image of her in my necklace ran in blogs and magazines internationally. I put up a website and that was the beginning of my jewelry business. Every collection was a narrative that I would put a lot of energy into, it was really a wonderful experience. But ultimately, I knew I wanted to collaborate with Matthew who was working with Rachel Feinstein at the time.
What happened next in the Carly Jo epic?
Matthew and I decided to move to Joshua Tree. Our experience being in the desert was like living under a huge magnifying glass. Everything is exposed. You can’t hide from anything—from the extreme elements, relationship issues, or parts of yourself that you’ve been avoiding. Everything comes to the surface in the desert and hopefully the bad stuff burns off. It forces you to see your life from a different perspective without the fun distractions and comforts of a city. Initially we bought a plot of land and lived in a camper without Internet or anything. We were completely off the grid and disconnected from the world. Within the first three weeks of our arrival, a crazy snow storm hit, 95 m.p.h. winds swept across the canyon, and our camper flipped over. It was quite a welcoming. After that we decided relocate to solid ground and renovate an old saloon in Pioneertown that hadn’t been used in years.
So, Topanga was next on your dance card?
Matthew and I ultimately decided to follow our dream and create furniture together here. It’s been five years since we’ve lived in Topanga Canyon. We have met a wonderful community, gave birth to a child, and have been coalescing the incredible people whom we have been lucky enough to work with on a series of events called Mercado Sagrado, which we have curated with my friend Heather Culp who I met here in the Canyon.
How does spirituality play a part in your creative process? It’s hard not to ask that question being in the spiritual vortex of Topanga Canyon.
The most interesting work comes through when we can step aside from our egos and tap into the “collective conscious.” The community is here in a way that I have never experienced in L.A. or New York. The nature inspires us, we hear owls and coyotes and hike to the top of Saddle Peak. The nature is really helpful to our process and we are grateful to have that every day. Back to the question about spirituality… Everyone assumes we are making dreamcatchers up here, but what we are trying to do is make work that inspires others. I like making work that’s uplifting but also funny and absurd. The whole spiritual community up here tends to be so serious. I’m a pretty messy person, but hopefully a neon colorful mess. My husband has taught me the true meaning of high craft and together we are trying to find a way to be a part of the conscience commerce movement by making beautiful and inspiring work by hand.
Is this why you created the Mercado Sagrado festival?
Exactly. It’s to support artists and craftspeople that are creating both traditional, conceptual, and useful objects. There is also music, lectures, and food. We like to promote the idea of wellness, but in a quiet and no so in-your-face or fanatical way. Its not just a “hippie” festival , it’s really about an evolved way of living with art, design, food, and nature, and creating a community. To find new ways to heal and expand. To meet like-minded people in a casual, natural, inspired—and inspiring—setting.
The next market will be the weekend of May 14, 2016.
To follow all of Brian and Claude’s West Coast adventures, check out the Wolk Morais Instagram.