Artist Jenny Morgan encouraged Weber State students to think outside of Utah barriers and find themselves as artists in her recent lecture at the Kimball Visual Arts Center.
Morgan, known for her figure paintings, addressed students about being an artist living within the confines of Utah.
Although currently living in New York City, Morgan was born in Salt Lake City, where she found her interest in creating art.
Morgan attended several colleges and universities, which allowed her to move outside of Utah. She discussed how living outside of Utah helped her develop and explore as an artist.
However, after leaving Denver to attend graduate school in New York, Morgan had a rude awakening.
“I was being forced to look at why I was working with the body the way I was,” Morgan said.
While in her studio, Morgan thought about these issues and found herself, “kind of combating the cultural weight of being a figure painter and the issues around realism,” she said.
Morgan was inspired to confront issues through her work.
“I was determined to move my work from a distracted and distant way of looking at the body and confront it full on,” Morgan said.
To confront the body full on, Morgan hired prostitutes to model for her figure paintings.
“This group of women who were using their body in that way, for me, were very hyper-sexual, especially growing up in Utah and then moving to Denver, which is kind of a larger version of Salt Lake,” Morgan said.
When the prostitutes entered her studio she was confronted with a nudity she was not ready for.
“As I was painting their skin I just realized that I had no emotional connection to their nipples or their hands or their feet,” Morgan said. “It was at that moment I realized it wasn’t just the body or just the sexuality, it was something deeper than that, that I needed to start investigating.”
After her experience with the prostitutes, Morgan continued to investigate outside of school, while sharing a studio with her friend David Mramor. Mramor helped push Morgan to break the barrier of the Utah culture.
“I remember I was having a hard time going in and painting these fully nude women … and David just looked at me and said, ‘Jenny, you’re not in Utah anymore. Let go a little bit!’” Morgan said. “It struck me at that moment what kind of messages growing up in this culture were still left in me.”
For Harvey Day, artist and resident of Ogden, Morgan’s message was not about culture being an influence; it was about expressing yourself with art.
“Making work that truly expresses what you’re trying to express,” said Day, “that’s really what I took away from it.”
Although Day did not relate to the cultural influences, Jaden Dedman, a sophomore majoring in art, agreed that Utah’s culture can be confining.
“I think that being in Utah, I was really shamed into thinking that if you’re a girl, and you have to be modest and live up to these standards,” Dedman said.
To break confinements, Dedman believes research is a key component in artwork.
“Something people need to take out of their artwork is doing research and understanding themselves and what’s going on because there’s more to just a picture than the face value,” Dedman said.