Devin N. Morris: A Serious Whimsy

by Nia Hampton

Devin N. Morris talks really fast. His eyes squelch up into little slits as he laughs at a small quib about himself that drops out in the middle of a thoroughly detailed explanation about his process. Even his digressions are cute. The fine artist is in his early 30s – a fact that at first seems unlikely considering his boyish charm. But when you really sit down and talk to him, you learn that all of his wisdom has been earned and learned in real time. Not just through lectures or required reading. Devin isn’t formally trained in art, although he’s always been an artist. The Baltimore native went to a magnet school for engineering, and his affinity for lines and angles can be seen throughout his collage and photography work.  His drawn work is a bit more fluid. Childlike and richly saturated, Devin’s work conveys how uninterested in reality he truly is. His written work is a serious whimsy. The stories feel personal in the way that all child protagonist-led pieces are, but aren’t necessarily linear. The subject matter flirt with those moments in memory where one grows up all at once.

His latest zine, “.R” was published in collaboration with MoMA Ps1 on the occasion of “Radical Edits: Reassessing Cultural Narratives” this past November. MoMA Ps1 has been killing it with their programing as of late. This particular event focused on bringing five artists and writers together “whose work counters racist narratives and foregrounds a reassessment of our collective cultural memory.” (taken from Devin’s most notable work to date is “3 dot Zine” and the Brown Paper ZIne and Small Press Fair for Black and PoC Artists Brown and Black Zine fairs he began organizing to connect to like-minded people.

“Being able to facilitate a conversation is what makes me happy, so that’s what the zine is. Me facilitating a conversation. But most of the time, I’m actually absent.” he offers when I suggested that his zines are collaborative in nature.  “I had never even read a zine [before]. I just knew it was a possibility. And I wasn’t interested so much in making a zine so much as I was interested in the fact that I could make something that was physical, wasn’t crazy expensive, even though it is kind of crazy expensive, it was because I could have a physical presence of communication.” The zine started from a conversation series in Devin’s home, but as the country slowly fell to pieces, the conversations got harder to have. “I couldn’t have people in my home. I couldn’t be responsible for what people were saying. The zine gave me a way to say ‘Okay, cool. Now you’re responsible.’ I just wanted to provide the space”.

Providing space and considering all that comes with it is something Devin does a lot. He’s really into interiors. Devin’s photography and collage work turns seemingly mundane things like chairs and curtains, into objects to be considered. This obsession with domesticity, is derived from his childhood, “ If I couldn’t afford, at my house, this home environment thing I needed to play in, then I would create it.” The Baltimore bred artist had his high school education at Baltimore PolyTechnic Institute, which specializes in engineering as the place where he really learned how to make art. In learning how to engineer, he learned how use numbers to get shapes, and is still very much inspired by intentional design in his work. While learning about shapes and numbers and design in high school, Devin was also the features editor of the school newspaper, on the design team and writing poetry. So the balance between being a writer and artist is a no-brainer.

“Most artists are writers naturally. Cause you’re a thinker. You have to think a lot to be an artist. So it always starts at some kind of theory. And that theory can be a fictional tale, that’s based on some non-fiction life thing.”  After high school, he attended the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore for about two and half years, and spent a semester at Towson University before moving to New York.  He would work in fashion as a buyer and merchandiser for about 5 years to pay his bills while steadily working on his craft. “I’m just playing around. I’m not serious like all these other bitches” he laughed. That’s what he used to tell himself. Not taking himself too seriously is what initially freed Devin to be able to make art. And consequently, zines. The culture of which has been greatly impacted by Devin’s presence. The Brown Paper Zine & Small Press Fair for Black and Brown Artist was held at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in New York City in the beginning of 2017. The second zine fair would be held in Baltimore the following April.

“The fact that nobody had offered space to artists of color to show their zines as often as they provided space for others is weird to me. So, I thought, let me make a space where Black and PoC zine makers can be apart of the conversation and take part in the marketplace that supports zines. Book communities are some of the most supportive environments I’ve found myself nurtured by as an artist.” With press from The Fader and VICE, Devin’s is becoming somewhat of a poster boy for the black and brown zine scene.  “I’m very comfortable with business. I like business. But in no ways, do I see Devin the artist as a business wanting to be a conglomerate of zines. For right now it’s a safe space, as it exists. The next fair will be with another museum with someone who’s very supportive of me. And that’s nice. But for now, it’s Baltimore and New York. I’ve lived in those spaces so that’s what feels natural. There’s a need for it everywhere, but I don’t feel responsible for it at this point in my life.” There is a stern tone in his voice when he explains his current role, with a hint that it could always change. He is an artist primarily, and uses a variety of mediums. When I asked about a personal favorite of mine, a video work featuring marionettes that he created a while ago he explains, “My work is my work. My work is not one thing. It’s always gonna be growing.” He still dreams of homogenizing all of his work one day, perhaps to tell an even grander story. “And once I get that, I’ll probably be like, ‘okay cool, I never wanna do that again.” Devin giggles.

Devins work is currently up at Lubov (373 Broadway, #207, New York, NY)

Potemkin // Body organized by Ramsay Kolber. Showing now until March 11th.

Keep up with the artist at his website, or on Instagram @devinnmorris


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