MORGAN ROSSKOPF combines free drawing, collage and intaglio printing
in the creation of two-dimensional works that evoke the poignant
tension between beauty and excess, desire and pain. The flat surfaces of
her pieces appear to seethe with motion and emotion due to surprising juxtapositions and dramatic
scale shifts between images representing American middle-class
aspirations towards status and pleasure. Morgan graduated Magna Cum
Laude with a BFA in Printmaking from Sonoma State University in 2010.
She received her MFA from the University of Oregon in 2013 and was
awarded the Philip Halley Johnson Schlorship in 2011. Her work has
recently been included in Light Out at White Box Gallery, Speaking Between at Disjecta Gallery and A(muse) at LaVerne Krauss Gallery, all in Portland, Oregon. Morgan lives and works in Los Angeles.
You describe yourself as "visual hunter-gatherer." Do you think about
hunting and gathering as a subject in your work or just a method?
Morgan Rosskopf: Hunting and gathering images is both subject and method. Or perhaps the subject of my work is also fueled by its method. I believe that all my images already exist; I just have to find them and rearrange them. Accumulating images is not simply a process that leads to a final product. It is also a way of discovering what my work is about. It is mostly intuitive: I tear images I am attracted to out of magazines and then reflect on that attraction. Once I have an understanding of what I want my drawing to be about, I look for other images that speak to the drawing’s overarching idea, even if they are seemingly unrelated or tangential. Certain ideas push me to collect a large amount of a particular type of image, often leading to countless hours on Google or Bing. I typically end up with a mess of downloaded images on my desktop.
The images I ultimately use are always fragmented and removed of their original context. The way we see ourselves and the rest of the world is comprised of a multitude of images. I see myself and my work as an accumulation of ideas and experiences. I am especially interested in how our inevitable accumulation of everything leads to paradox and internal conflict. My completed drawings are composed portraits of psychological states, each fragmented image contributing something to the larger, interwoven chains of meaning.
Could you talk about the tension between beauty, desire and the
"conventional middle class aspirations and feelings of internal
dissonance" that inspire your work?
MR: Desire is this underlying force that shapes how we see and experience beauty, as well as the ideas that conflict with it or cause feelings of tension. Desire isn’t just something we feel, but it is also a form of self-expression. Fulfilling our desires can range from choosing what we eat for breakfast to what car we feel adequately reflects our sensibilities. Middle-class aspiration is such a strong, governing force on our desires. Middle-class aspirations are advertised to us everywhere, and the pressure to achieve status can be crippling. More so, many middle-class conventions are superficial and devoid of meaning. Despite my criticism and longing for alternatives, part of me still wishes to uphold these middle-class values.
Beauty gets wrapped up in this issue because we are obsessed with achieving it. When our expectations of beauty do not align with those of popular middle-class culture, feelings of dissonance start to grow. Even though we live in a postmodern culture where freedom of self-expression is our supposed mantra, that middle-class convention maintains a strong presence, complicating our personal desires.
I am interested in beauty that is strange, confrontational or kitschy. While I admittedly feel juvenile, my inspiration comes from rebelling against these conventions while I search for something that feels more genuine. For the most part, we all share similar ideas of what beauty is, regardless of class. However, I think it is important for us to question our ideas of beauty because they have become predictable and one-dimensional. Sometimes the role of beauty in popular culture is merely to denote that something fits into our paradigm of thought. The word beauty used to be reserved for things that were awe-inspiring, even slightly terrifying or unhinging. While I am not arguing that beauty needs always to be attached to the sublime, I do feel that pushing the boundaries of beauty is important. Doing this might never relieve feelings of dissonance, but it might provide a new and more satisfying way to experience beauty and fulfill our desires.
There's a lot of interplay between literal and figurative meanings of
the images you use in your drawings and collages. Do you always know
consciously why you are putting images together, or do you get surprised
in the process?
MR: My drawing process is largely intuitive, but I have to be smart about it. My method is based in collage and requires that I edit myself all the time, as my exposure and interest in images is overwhelming. It is easy for me to get carried away or to let my drawings wander conceptually. I have found that, if I limit myself to a few different symbols for each drawing, I have a little more control over what the image says. Though I try to exercise some control over my imagery, meaning will just suddenly show up. It often surprises me. Collage is a great tool for these types of moments because I can easily continue to expand on this new meaning or simply cover it up. Because I try to limit my signifiers, I rely on formal elements, such as color and quality of line, to harness these surprises. Black sumi ink is one of my favorite tools to create formal cohesion between disparate signifiers; silhouetting repeated images or interjecting a new one not only provides heightened contrast and visual variation, but it also evokes conceptual contrast. I have also found that there are a few constant symbols in my work, such as the cigarette, hair or roses, that make it into the drawings no matter what. They become superfluous and foundational at the same time, and I really like that juxtaposition. How many other superfluous things are in our lives that we just cannot live without?
Juxtaposition and paradox are the main conceptual forces in my work. I am particularly interested in the experience of cognitive dissonance: anxiety caused by holding two conflicting beliefs at the same time. Resolving cognitive dissonance requires that we let go of one conflicting belief or figure out a way to mediate the two. Juxtaposition is a natural way to visually represent such abstract feelings, as well as a way to explore where this conflict arises from or possible ways to find resolution. This is my favorite part of drawing because it lets me meditate on totally outlandish possibilities. I create strange metaphors, or indulge in my most exaggerated and melodramatic ideas as way to interrogate the complex actuality of our psyches. I enjoy conflating images as a way to make sarcastic jokes, probe delicate subjects or to make myself vulnerable to the viewer. There are moments where I let the drawings expand out of control and others where I maintain a more regimented process, mirroring the ebb and flow of our own internal dialogues.
The literal and figurative interplay of images is where all the fun stuff happens. For a long time I was nervous about my work being too easy to read, so I made vague references and tried too hard to muddy up my intent and meaning. Because collage creates a type of schizophrenia in the work, I realized that muddled meaning happened naturally. I was working against myself and my methodology by attempting to be vague or mysterious. Choosing to highlight the literal meaning of many images allowed juxtaposition and relationships between symbols to happen faster. It has enabled me to be more confrontational in my work.
OPP: Could you pick your favorite piece and tell us how you understand some of the juxtapositions?
MR: Shorty Wanna Be A Thug is probably the best example of literal interplay between images. I wanted to address the pain that comes along with desiring excess. Literally, this drawing pokes fun at the stomachache that follows a decadent dinner; it's our punishment for indulging in too much boozy and buttery goodness. Metaphorically, I was also interested in the psychological stress that often manifests as physical pain and seems to follow from a hedonistic and materialistic life. I spend a lot of time observing how the “good life” brings about a lot of internal conflict, both psychological and physical. I chose to address these ideas by conflating components of a lobster dinner with images of ulcers, bones and fatty tissue, chaotically and beautifully intertwined. Juxtaposition of images and meaning is my attempt at understanding our cultural and personal expectations. The act of juxtaposition not only posits one meaning with a counterpart, but also opens both up to the beautiful grey area that exists between their extremes. Derrida might call this différance, but I see it more as an acceptance of the reality we chose to make for ourselves.
OPP: You've recently received your MFA in Printmaking (June 2013) from the University of Oregon. How did your work change while you were in graduate school?
MR: In graduate school, the foundational
ideas of my work did not change, but the way I executed them did. I have
always been interested in the complex and often muddy nature of the
psyche. My time in graduate school allowed me to investigate what
that meant to me. I got to spend three years reading psychology and
philosophy and indulging in all of my intellectual and creative
interests. As a result, my ideas were clarified and complicated at the
same time. My imagery became more specific, but it was also fragmented. I
started drawing realistically, but with the intent to create something
Now that school is over, I have to keep pushing myself. My urge to
create is always present, but it is easy to fall back on things I have
made in the past, instead of looking forward into new territory.
Immediately after school ended, I was commission by a public defense
office up in Idaho to make a
drawing that was inspired by one of their cases. This case in particular
involved a baby that was exposed to so much methamphetamine that it was
supposedly growing meth crystals on its skin! When I heard this story, I
was immediately inspired by the images that were manifesting in my
head. Even though I was overflowing with ideas, I felt the subject
matter was so sensitive that I had to be careful with my imagery. Crystal Candy Mountain is
the piece that came out of this commission. I was aiming to make
strangely innocent, grotesque and cracked out, and I think it worked.
Sometimes making work for school has the ability to validate its
“goodness,” and I am spending a lot of time fighting that. I can make
good work outside of school.
Right now, I am interested in some vile imagery. I have been listening to a lot of hip-hop, and I admire how grotesque a lot of the lyrics are. When I am listening to these songs in my car, I often ask myself why I am not drawing images that parallel some of the grit and horrifying things these young rappers are talking about. The metaphors they use are so beautiful and confrontational, which is what I am about. Even though I find it incredibly difficult, I think it feels good to draw yucky things.
To see more of Morgan's work, please visit morganrosskopf.com.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is on view at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) until December 6, 2013, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need Is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.