Conjuring Hazy Memories with Kristen Morgin’s Trompe L’oeil Clay Sculptures

Kristen Morgin is an artist whose intentions have been, at times, obscure to critics. Drawing on images from divergent moments across the 20th century, her unfired clay sculptures have been described both as homages to nostalgia and delicate refutations of our retro-obsessed culture. This month, in her first exhibition at Anthony Meier Fine Arts in San Francisco, Morgin brings 20 collected works that showcase her practice as one rooted in contradiction and historical pastiche.

Years ago, Morgin said she understood her experience as being “on the periphery of a culture I don’t understand.” Besieged by Hollywood values on the West Coast, she said, “I use my art to explore the myths about California.” One would imagine the artist is inspired, as such a perplexed outsider, by America’s countless billboards, television shows, movies, and fashion fads. As such, Morgan’s chosen material belies an attention to the malleability of such societal trends: She has for much of her career used unfired clay around wireframes to create wall pieces and sculptures loosely based on various pop-cultural ephemera.

For this show—titled after one of her pieces, My Best to You, Little Boy-Girl (2015)—her work is on a decidedly smaller scale than usual, as if inviting the viewer into a self-contained world. In Morgan’s universe, the Hardy Boys are played by characters from the ’90s sitcom Friends; Charlie Brown, the kind kid’s character, is spliced with Shepard Fairey’s Andre the Giant, the one we should “obey.”

Accompanying these overtly symbolic works are uncanny clay figurines that resemble artifacts left behind in a landfill: Pez dispensers, FedEx boxes, cigarette packs, and disco records. The wet clay is meticulously covered in paint and marker for a delicate result that brings to mind the hazy capacity of memory and the filters through which we understand the past.


—M. Osberg


My Best to You, Little Boy-Girl” is on view at Anthony Meir Fine Arts, San Francisco, Feb. 19–Mar. 25, 2016.

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