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Almost every inch of Richard Allen Morris’ 2,000 square-foot basement studio in Golden Hill is packed with art, books and records.
The prolific artist has been living in the unfinished basement for more than 30 years. His landlords have long looked the other way, allowing him to turn the gritty space into a makeshift apartment and art studio. Exposed water pipes leak, industrial electric equipment is everywhere – nothing’s up to code. But Morris said it’s the only place he could afford that’s big enough to fit all his things.
Six months ago, though, Morris was told he would have to fit his things elsewhere. His landlords served him an eviction notice. He managed to stretch the original 30-day notice into several months, and eventually found a place to go. But he said the new studio is less than half the size and four times the price. He’s still in the middle of packing.
The move means he has to sell off his collection of books and records. Much of his own artwork – an eclectic collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings – has ended up in a dumpster.
“I’ve amassed a tremendous amount of work, which much of it I’ve had to destroy because I can’t get it into the space that I’m in now,” he said.
Ron Stevenson, who’s represented Morris for decades, swooped in and saved several pieces that have never been shown publicly. The collection will be in “This & That: Excavations from the Studio,” a show opening Saturday at Stevenson’s gallery at 7661 Girard Ave. in La Jolla.
But Stevenson is himself going through a space struggle. After 14 years in his gallery, his landlords didn’t extend his lease, and now he has to move to a smaller, more expensive space in the same building. The unexpected move forced him to end Morris’ show a month earlier than planned.
Over the years, Morris has earned considerable esteem in San Diego and elsewhere. He’s shown his work at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and his paintings and sculptures are included in the collections of several notable galleries and museums, including Germany’s Museum Haus Lang and Museum Wiesbaden.
But his success has never translated into a steady stream of income. His latest move isn’t the first time he’s been forced to destroy his own work to fit into a smaller space. He smashed several sculptures with a hammer in the ’60s when he was forced out of a large art studio because of rising rent. He cut canvases into strips in the ’70s because of the same issue – strips that he later incorporated into collage pieces that he’s now throwing away for good.
Morris, who’s simultaneously known for the lighthearted humor he infuses in his art, and for being one of the art world’s most critical and pessimistic curmudgeons, said he mostly blames himself for his financial struggles. He said he should have gotten more of an arts education, but that San Diego just plain sucks when it comes to supporting the arts. He hates the fact that he never had the guts to leave.
“It’s sluggish here,” he said. “People are feeding their faces and having kids and I know that’s part of life – that’s what you do. There’s the arts, but it’s only for a very few people. … It’s just the worst town you could ever be in.”
Morris said throwing away his artwork isn’t easy, but it’s a punishment he’s prepared to accept.
“You just have to shut your mind off and say you were stupid and you made mistakes and so you’re in the dilemma now and you pay your dues now,” he said. “Now you face reality. And the reality is if it doesn’t fit, you’ve got to throw it away.”
You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.
Goodbye Joyce Cutler-Shaw, Saying No to Not-So-Public Public Art and More Arts and Culture News
• San Diego artist Joyce Cutler-Shaw died March 18 from complications related to a rare progressive neurological disorder. The Union-Tribune’s obituary touches on her drawings, public art, humanitarian work, an education lecture series she established in La Jolla and more. I recently wrote about an innovative arts program she started at UC San Diego’s School of Medicine.
• ICYMI: Before I left for my Spring Break vacation, I wrote about the arts commission’s decision not to move forward with a public art design they said isn’t accessible enough to the general public. Ultimately, it’s up to the acting director of the Commission for Arts and Culture to decide whether the art gets built as-is. I’ve been covering how and why expensive public art ends up in not-so-public places.
• There’s a new mural going up in Chicano Park. It’s by Sal Barajas and was commissioned by Border Angels, a nonprofit that advocates for immigration reform and human rights. (Union-Tribune)
• In 2016, UC San Diego officials announced they’d be converting the campus art gallery into a classroom to accommodate the swelling student population. Protests ensued, and the university reversed course. Recently, the school paper confirmed that the gallery is no longer being considered as a future classroom, but whether it will be funded is still unclear.
• San Diego’s largest music and entertainment festival, Kaaboo Del Mar, announced its music and comedy lineup. San Diego musician Alfred Howard had this hilarious response, which included the zinger, “San Diego is full of people who crave bad nostalgia and want to relive that time they got groped by a stranger while crowd surfing to ‘Runaway Train.’” (NBC 7)
• San Diego theater peeps can’t stop talking about San Diego Rep’s interactive production of “Beachtown.” (KPBS)
• The Union-Tribune rolled out its Spring Arts Preview stories. This year’s crop includes a profile of San Diego author Julia Dixon Evans and a piece about paper artist Bhavna Mehta. I’ve got major heart eyes for those two gals.
• The city of Carlsbad’s Arts & Culture Plan is close to being done. Folks have until April 13 to provide feedback.
• A troupe of aerial dancers kicked off a six-month residency at the San Diego International Airport. (Times of San Diego)
• The U-T’s theater critic calls New Village Arts’ production of “Men on Boats” a “witty, exhilarating and sometimes pretty weird piece.”
• In an email newsletter, Fernando Z. López, executive director of San Diego Pride, wrote a moving note about the motivation behind the new #MeTooLGBTQ conference happening later this month in San Diego.
• “Code switching” happens when someone tones down, hides, adjusts or eliminates certain aspects of his or her identity in order to be accepted in different social settings. A range of performing and visual artists will address the issue of code switching in a unique event this week.
• Many of San Diego’s best visual artists are teachers at local colleges and universities. This week, the California Center for the Arts Escondido is showcasing the work of college visual art department faculty members throughout San Diego County.
• More than 250 musicians, singers and dancers from San Diego State University and the San Diego Symphony are joining forces for a big concert April 8.
• Quartyard, the pop-up park in the East Village that closed while it moved to a new location, is just about ready to reopen.
• The San Diego Art Institute reported record-breaking attendance at the opening of its newest exhibition. That’s good news for the arts venue, which went through a leadership change last year that concerned some of the artists who’d been working and showing their art there.
• The New Children’s Museum announced a new community engagement program meant to reach underserved families living near the U.S.-Mexico border.
• An artist-run swap meet held at Bread & Salt in Logan Heights served as a social experiment meant to better connect San Diego’s art scene and come up with alternative ways to fund local artists. (CityBeat)
• Broadway San Diego has a new general manager. (Union-Tribune)
• The San Diego Natural History Museum is trying to get San Diegans to participate in a contest to see which city can record the most observations of local flora and fauna over a four-day period.
• The lineup of visual artists showing work in an exhibition opening this week at Quint Gallery is on fire.
• “I have a very pretty friend. Sometimes I tell her she looks tired so she’ll be self-conscious like the rest of us.” That’s just one of the secrets shared in the big “PostSecret” exhibition coming this month to the Museum of Man. (NBC 7)
Food, Cannabis, Beer and Booze News
• Green Flash as we know it is dead. The brewery has been sold to a group of investors following financial problems. (Union-Tribune)
• Jesse Marx and I released a new episode of the Potcast, Voice of San Diego’s new show about cannabis policy and culture. In it, we talk to the creators of a new college class meant to educate people interested in getting a job in the budding marijuana industry. We also update folks on the state of the black weed market and explain why it’s so hard to shut illegal pot shops down.
• Despite the thriving black market, legal cannabis shops are still making plenty of money. (Cannabis Business Times)
• Tijuana brewery Cervecería Insurgente made a beer to raise money for Tijuana’s sizable population of deportees. (Union-Tribune)
• Fallbrook Brewing Company announced via Facebook that it’s closing.
• James Coffee Co. is opening another new location. (Eater)
• Dumplings shaped like adorable animals? Yes, please.
• Get your kombucha and tongue-numbing kava tea here. (Reader)
Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with arts and culture news and tips. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link. Subscribe to the San Diego Culturecast podcast.