Situating the In-Joke Canvases of Morgan Blair

Between the dregs of Craigslist’s free-stuff listings and “Seinfeld”‘s most obscure moments, there’s always something familiar in the imagery of the NYC-based artist’s work.
Art & Culture
Situating the In-Joke Canvases of Morgan Blair

Between the dregs of Craigslist’s free-stuff listings and “Seinfeld”‘s most obscure moments, there’s always something familiar in the imagery of the NYC-based artist’s work.

Words: Mike LeSuer

images courtesy of Morgan Blair

July 16, 2018

BACKSTORY: A painter, muralist, and self-proclaimed Home Alone buff uninterested in separating her art from her fond recollection of the ’90s
FROM: Berlin, Massachusetts; now working out of a studio in New York City
YOU MIGHT KNOW HER FROM: Her jazz-wax aesthetic muralled across the US, including Rudy’s Barbershop in Highland Park, Los Angeles, and Brooklyn’s ill-fated Silent Barn and Death by Audio venues—or more virally, her Seinfeld-inspired oil paintings, which have been making the rounds on social media since 2013
NOW: Translating the incomprehensible lexicon of clickbait articles into paintings of psychedelic webscapes (with an occasional Costanza or two sneaking in)

Painting and comedy generally aren’t two forms of expression that go hand-in-hand, but Morgan Blair is here to remind us that they’re not mutually exclusive. While the images she creates won’t elicit an immediate laugh-out-loud response, a careful investigation of the globby impressionism of one of her oil paintings will certainly inspire a delayed humorous reaction: Is that…Fusilli Jerry?

For Blair, the decision to channel her talents into hazy reproductions of obscure moments in the godfather of shows about nothing wasn’t a conscious one. “I just kind of set off blindly on a vacation from my usual abstract work, which I needed some time away from,” she recalls. “So I indulged this joke idea I had, which was to make oil paintings of scenes from Seinfeld.”

What began as an exercise in recreating screencaps worthy of portraiture—Kramer posing in nothing but his white socks and Jockeys—evolved into a series focused more on visual themes than classic bits. “I never wanted to be painting straight-up portraits or recognizable group shots because that felt like it would be very close to fan art,” Blair explains, before admitting that it frequently resorted to that anyway. Scrolling through her online portfolio, even the most culturally illiterate viewer will recognize Frank Costanza trying on a manzier, Puddy painted up as a devil, or Kramer’s “ASSMAN” New York plate. “Oh well,” she concludes.

Blair has developed other ploys for injecting the same in-joke humor into her more recent paintings of the Dali-esque liquification of Internet-sourced imagery—Craigslist free-stuff listings, YouTube how-to-videos—depicted under the influence of Magic Eye, all labelled with absurdist clickbait titles that defy word counts. “In 2013, I made a series of totally abstract paintings,” Blair recalls. “I immediately became aware of the palpable boredom they were causing. My solution was to give them titles like ‘Socially Conservative Man in Conversation with Gay Cousin’ that suggested the blobs actually contained specific narratives and references to pop culture that people are interested in.”

While she began using the approach to “trick people” into connecting with her work, the titles have become a crucial aspect. “I’ve now spent so much time on these clickbait websites stealing ideas,” she says, “that I’ve become fond of nonsensical juxtapositions, like a link saying, ‘You Won’t Believe These Forty Celebrity Transformations!’ below an accompanying photo of toenail fungus. Here is a crazy, indecipherable statement, and here is a crazy, indecipherable image. They go together because they have been put next to each other. I’m happy with any forced associations that result.”

“30 Most Shockingly Gorgeous Stars Who Became Monsters After Learning This One Trick That Culd Change Everything About The Way You See This Video: Hot Wife Cooks What For Husband After Sees Him With These Top 30 Celebrity Tummy Tuck Nightmares, Your Jaw Will Drop!” / 54″ x 54″ / acrylic on linen / 2016

Even without a paragraph-length title, Blair’s work recalls a certain meme-age aesthetic, from the ska-patterned Photoshop default peeking through certain canvases to the sourceless imagery vaguely recalling stuffed animals inexplicably soaked in tropicalia. “I take in information on the Internet and then I aggregate it into the paintings and titles,” she says of the relationship between her two virtuosities: painting and mining the furthest corners of the surface web. “With one I’m consuming media and with the other I’m regurgitating it. Yin and yang, man.” 

Regarding the regurgitation of her images on the Internet by others, Blair doesn’t feel too threatened by credit being stripped from her work. She views the web more as a useful tool for generating ideas—so long as those ideas aren’t repurposed maliciously, she implies, citing the recent misappropriation of a certain cartoon frog to a certain hate group. “I have a really cool lawyer who will shred you. But I don’t really care. But I will destroy you. C’est la vie. Namaste.” FL

This article appears in FLOOD 8. You can download or purchase the magazine here.