In the Studio with Guto Morgan.

Heatherwick Studio Residency June 2021

Guto Morgan’s work examines and reassembles seemingly empty spaces to create paintings wherein the unnoticed and bypassed elements of architecture and interior space (think humble corners, off-cuts of the periphery – walls, sills, alcoves, and ceilings) are considered and observed together with intimate aspects and remnants of places and passing time. Flat planes are transformed into multifaceted, dimensional spaces. Clean, precise and satisfying work. We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Guto about his practice, his upbringing in Wales, and how his childhood love for creativity led him firmly on the path to art.

“I grew up near my Grandparents’ house in a quiet place in rural mid-Wales. My uncle lived there too and in the 90’s had art materials lying around the house, such as cartridge paper, wax crayons and oil-based pens, and I was given free reign to play with everything and anything, even as a toddler. He also had a kick-ass NAD Hi-Fi system, and lots of jazz and 70’s fusion records everywhere. In one of the rooms was all of his art books and I was always in there trawling through paintings by pioneers of the early 20th century, and it was the likes of Cezanne, Matisse and Bonnard that would become my bread and butter. This was also a time when the internet wasn’t commercially accessible, so as an only child, American cartoons served as my companions for some time. I think that I began using paint a little later, perhaps when I was 16 or 17 and after trying oil paint for the first time, I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved with this material for the rest of my life”.

Left: Semi-Detached (Magnolia) | VIEW
Right: Noslun XIX | VIEW

Guto attended Carmarthen School of Art and graduated with Distinction before heading to Scotland to study at The Glasgow School of Art. During his time at GSA, Guto’s approach and style began to develop into what we see today; clean compositions, layered form and a subtle use of colour. He graduated in 2019 with a 1st Class BA(Hons) Fine Art.

“In 2018 I began looking into ideas of spatiality and spatial influence, especially domestic places. People act out their entire lives and are governed by context and this is quite apparent in domestic settings, where daily routine shapes and strengthens the mould which casts our approach to life. I think that I’ve always been interested in the backdrops and environments of dramas, films, animations and video games more so than any of the actors or characters. As soon as you add figures into ‘scenes’, their environments are seen only as backgrounds but when the figures are absent, these spaces fulfil ulterior functions and their components enter the realm of the uncanny. It is this fleeting surrealism that fascinates me”.

The Welsh landscape that surrounds Guto’s home and studio plays an important role in his artistic development, influencing his use of spatiality within his own immediate surroundings.

The countryside surrounding Guto’s home and studio.

“As a family, we always worked physically with the land. I grew up on a small farm and for us, the fields aren’t just patches of land, they have names, they each have characteristics that make them unique. For example, cae coch (red field) always has a reddish tinge to the hay that grows there and cae rhos (moor field) is a bit lumpy and swampy; we observe and consider things that may seem arbitrary, but are often agriculturally and culturally important, so our connection to the land is significant, yet I think that this sensitivity comes at a price, especially when you move to an urban setting. It makes you overly cautious and perhaps the observations of late are an attempt to consider the more nuanced qualities of planes and spaces that are right in front of us before we even leave the house, though I’m certainly not saying that these are the only spaces considered in my work. I think that as a painter you have to consider all of these different spaces; virtual space, relational space, notional space, you know? It’s all relevant”.

A typical working day for Guto in the studio starts in the evening.

“I often make work in the evenings which is one reason why the paintings look as if they radiate incandescent light. There is a stillness to the steady glow of electric light that is somehow infinite. I usually work with my own digitally collaged photographs and I make these collages on computer software. The paintings sometimes take on a life of their own which is both exciting and daunting. I work late and often until I feel that I can do no more because something needs to dry – especially if a piece is fairly geometric and requires sharp edges. I think that the sharpness has been important since it creates a sense of difference or a break in continuation that highlights the spatial components at play. It also references the digital which is both an important aspect of my creative process and is as significant an influence on our lives spatially as are the physical structures that surround us”.

Guto during his Heatherwick Studio Residency, 2021.

Inspiration comes from a wide-ranging field; artists such as Dexter Dalwood, Erin Shirreff, Philip Guston and Bonnard, to cinematographers, writers, musicians, friends and family.

“I really love Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s beautiful shots in his film Uncle Boonmae Who Can Recall His Past Lives – it’s so slow and considerate. I also keep coming back to Badalamenti’s score and that fuzzy surrealism that cuts through David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Music is another big thing for me. I love jazz and electronic stuff and music that generates or captures a sense of space or atmosphere”.

Left: Death of David Kelly by Dexter Dalwood, 2008. Right: The Bathroom by Pierre Bonnard, 1932

When approaching a new artwork, Guto will begin in a number of different ways, depending on the concept and the overall requirements; sketching, photographing, recording audio and film.  He stores these files into a library of material and will refer to them as the work’s direction starts to reveal itself and a visual context is established.

“I usually go through a fairly long process of collaging, chopping, changing and compiling these ideas until I have a solid foundation to work with. This all happens before I begin painting, which is when the process will often start all over again if things don’t quite add up on canvas or board. Personally, I find that it’s a dull exercise to paint from a single photograph, but painting from collaged material offers an opportunity to think about recording in ways that reflect how we process things ourselves. I currently paint a lot of hard shapes and because I use oil paint, it can take some time for an area to cure before I move on to the next. I know that acrylic paint might be a more appropriate material for this approach (it certainly would speed things up on a practical level), but it would be difficult to achieve certain qualities of light. I think that the paintings are usually done when they suggest a sense of space without being overly descriptive”.

Cyfer | VIEW

The use of different media is crucial to Guto’s entire creative process.

“I work with photographs and photo editing software which are integral to the process of mapping out each painting, but beyond that, I work primarily with oil paint on either canvas, paper or board. I’ve worked a bit with video and sculpture in the past, but I like the structural limitations of painting, perhaps because these limitations motivate me to be more daring within the aperture of the image.  Also, I think that parallels can be drawn between the pictorial space of the picture plane and the virtual space of the screen which, for me, is involved in the thinking and making process. This is especially interesting when we are living in a world that is becoming more and more digital. Having said that, I am less interested in delineating such comparisons than I am in exploring their nuances. I’m certainly not ruling out other media, I just think that I have enough on my plate at the moment with painting”.

Thank you so much to Guto for taking the time to talk to us, sharing some invaluable insight into his work and life as an artist. You can view Guto’s full gallery collection here.