say hi to_ Carly Jo Morgan
As a big fan of both the contemporary design gallery Not So General and the work of furniture designer Carly Jo Morgan, I was sure not to miss the opening of Carly's show at Not So General called "Transmutation," in which she debuted a collection of new stunning terrazzo furniture.
Thanks to the introduction by Not So General founder Paul Davidge, I connected with Carly and was lucky enough to pay a visit to her studio and learn a bit more about her process. A truly inspirational creative force, it was exciting to hear about about Carly's vision and her evolution as an artist.
| Leah | When did you start designing furniture and was it always something you had planned on doing?
| Carly | No, nothing that I've done has ever really been planned actually. When I was in college I had a wallpaper company called Cavern. I had an elective course and I did some silk screened octopus wallpaper and a friend of mine was like why don't we see if it sells, I'll build a website, you make some designs and we’ll make it look like we have a business. And it happened overnight. The New York Times wrote a piece on all these up and coming wallpaper designers as a trend piece, and they featured us but we'd never made it other than in my one class. We got all these orders and we had to figure it out.
"That's kind of how every business has started, it's like we get an order before we actually know what we're doing."
That's kind of how every business has started, it's like we get an order before we actually know what we're doing. And there's been a lot of evolution from that, and it happened later with bronze jewelry and hardware. When we had a daughter my husband and I started a furniture company because he was a sculpture fabricator in New York and he's an incredible carpenter so we started designing things together and right when Cookie was born we launched Only Love is Real.
We ended up separating lovingly, but in the process he took the fabrication. He's the woodworker ofOnly Love is Real. And I continued with some interior design projects that had come to us, and one was a restaurant called The Dream cafe in San Francisco which never ended up happening. She said do whatever you want and make it really trippy and surrealist, which is a dream job, and I designed a pink terrazzo moonscape that had the pink lighting that Jonathan Entler does. I met with Jonathan to do a studio visit and he asked me who was going to make all the terrazzo. I hadn't really thought ahead, I'm just like we'll do it, we'll figure it out.
Together we went to Ontario and found this old place that had been there since the 50s and they gave us a mini tutorial and with his skill of making molds from the lighting we kind of transformed that into bigger shapes. It was a very messy process and a lot of mistakes were made. Luckily the same business partner from the wallpaper company when I was 20 has a tech firm in Santa Monica and he brought me on as a designer for his office, just to kind of tweak some things and get rid of the CB2 stuff and fill in some vintage pieces. When I saw that they were buying a conference table for $20,000 that was made of wood veneer I said - why don't we just make this, I'm learning how to work with terrazzo, we'll make it. So We made an 18 person conference table for our first project because it was pretty straightforward and flat and it worked. So then he asked us to do the next floor because their firm had another 5000 square foot floor. So that's been this job, we made 37 pieces for them. It grew really fast and so it's at that point where we have to really take a step back and decide where we want to go with it now.
| Leah | What attracted you to working with terrazzo and what has been your favorite part about working with this material and/or least favorite?
| Carly | I live in Topanga and the previous owners told us that our house had a gray water system, but that wasn't true, so we cut that and our yard turned into a dirt pit. Slowly we were envisioning how to turn this high desert landscape into something that looked nice. I really love sculpture gardens and we used to live in Joshua Tree so I love that aesthetic and those colors of the pink sunsets.
We started landscaping our backyard and slowly bringing in rocks and gravels and different things to make dry creek bed out of rocks and gravel and succulents. We had to do retaining walls so we poured them in pink concrete and learned the process through a neighbor who was a few a few doors down. It was inspiring to see what you can do with simple materials from home depot. So I was just working with all these stones all day long in the pink concrete and I started thinking maybe we can make some tiles out of this and then realize that's probably how terrazzo is made. So it just kind of came to us.
The part that I love the most is that it's very organic, you don't know what you're going to get. Each piece is going to be unique due to what's in the field. For instance the gravel bags that we get when they have one brown rock with all of the white, that's my favorite part. But the part that is hardest about it is that it's very labor intensive and it can be grueling.
| Leah | I saw your collection at Not So General and really loved the brass inlay components and it seems like there are certain symbols that repeat, specifically the hand and the snake. Can you talk to me about the meaning behind those symbols?
| Carly | The snake has been my spirit animal since I was a kid, it’s always been a visual that I've connected with and I love snake mythology. For the Not So General show, we called it The Transmutation show. I think I've been going through, as we all always are, a process of transformation. You know, shedding the skin, shedding the past, turning poisons into medicine.
I've also always loved hands and I love Pedro Friedeberg so it's definitely an homage to his work. He's one of my biggest inspirations as an artist. He was making furniture that was very sculptural, in between that world of art and furniture in a way that really inspired me to get involved in making furniture and functional art. The hand represents giving and receiving.
| Leah | When you're designing what does your creative process look like?
| Carly | It's been mostly sketching and then we just get straight into the studio and start testing out the forms.
| Leah | Do the pieces evolve along the way?
| Carly | Definitely. We've been under such a time crunch that we've had to make decisions and then new pieces come out of them. For instance this cozy cave chair came out of the original moon snake chair. When we started to see the mold we realized we could just make a bigger version, go straight down and slightly alter the mold and then we have a whole new piece. That's the best part about the process.
This whole this first collection really came from a bunch of sketches that were approved by this tech firm and then we got to just hustle and it was really cool to see the pieces come to life in such a short amount of time. And now that we know what the process is I think moving forward it'll really change what we make because we know what we're capable of and there are a lot of new ideas.
| Leah |Who are your creative role models and where do you look for inspiration.
| Carly | I mentioned Pedro Friedeberg before who is one of my favorite artists. There's another artist named Emma Kunz; she was a healer who would use a pendulum to create this divine artwork that had beautiful meaning. I'm mostly interested in people that are really connected to a higher power or are under the assumption that it's not us that are creating the work; that we're all just tapping into something greater than us. That's how I want to live and work.
| Leah | What is your dream project?
A long term goal that I've had for years is creating a community space that's sort of an interdisciplinary retreat center that is like a cultural incubator where different people can come together. There'd be a music element or a recording studio. We'd publish whatever came out of the artist residencies as this whole very cool thing that is sort of based around creating a sculpture garden that's a very inspiring place for people to go and unplug from this world.
Some friends and I have been working on really trying to call in the right investors and partners for it. We have some incredible architects that have done huge projects that are interested. Now I'm talking to a chef about the food and farming components, and everything is sort of coming together because everybody seems to have a really similar idea right now creating a space like that. I have a weird feeling that some iteration of it will happen in the next lifetime.
| Leah | What's on the horizon for Carly Jo Morgan Studio? Where do you hope to take the practice, do you think you’ll stick with terrazzo or try other things?
I don't think I'll ever stick with anything. I remember people years ago saying that you have to stick with something, you can't keep quitting, but I've never seen it as quitting I feel like it's an evolution. I do really love this medium but I'm not really sure. I think we'll be doing this for a while. I'd really like to get into public spaces or outdoor spaces.
| Leah | Do you have anything else you'd like to share?
I'd like to emphasize that I don't do this alone. I have a team that's really amazing and everyone has shown up at the right moment. Our team just seems to really make sense together and nothing really can happen without that.