Shortly after the aspiring screenplay writer who calls himself Morley moved from New York to Los Angeles in 2006, he launched a one-man campaign to cheer up random strangers with self-portrait posters featuring messages of encouragement. Sample text: "I promise you you're not just a waitress."
Morley says, "So many people define themselves by what they've accomplished or not accomplished. In a big city like L.A. you can spend a lot of time surrounded by hundreds of people yet you feel like an alien or a ghost or something. A big part of this project is me wanting to reach out to people and make them feel less alone."
Morley's outreach efforts have now been collected in If You're Reading This, There's Still Time (Cameron + Company. The hardcover picture book brings together images and backstories for dozens of Morley's wry broadsides including "We Will Never Regret our Tattoos. Right?"; "It Will Get Better. It Just Has to;" and "I Am Not Ashamed of My Karaoke Persona."
Morley, who studied screenwriting at School of Visual Arts, says he savors the direct storytelling approach afforded by Sharpie, photocopier, wheat paste bucket and a headful of witticisms that he typically dreams up while stuck in traffic. "As a screenwriter," Morley observes, "There's so many layers you have to go through in order to tell your story. You have to write the script, get money for the script, shoot it, find distributors, make it into film festivals, all of that just to get to your audience. What appealed to me about doing posters is that you can express yourself, cut through all the middle men and bring it right to the world that the audience lives in."
Morley's black and white drawings are not aimed at self-aggrandizement, he says. Instead, he's simply trying to personalize the message. "I don't want to create an icon or brand. I include myself in the posters because I feel like it forms a more intimate relationship between the artist and the person passing by. And it's important to include some vulnerability and use fears and rejections and various aspects from my own life so people look at my work as more than greeting card fodder. I want to be seen as a friend, a comrade in arms."
Morley modestly notes that his drawing skills play a supporting role to the text. "It's a little easier when you're kind of drawing the same model every time," he says. "I still struggle with the hands and sometimes I draw myself where it's like 'Man, I look a little fat in this one!' but most of the time it's just about how the image play with the words on the page."
While Morley occasionally gets approached by strangers who recognize him from his poster appearances, the 32-year old has managed to elude unwelcome attention from authorities in Los Angeles, where paste-up art technically constitutes a code violation. Morley admits, "My wife sometimes gets concerned about the legal aspects saying, 'It freaks me out that there's a picture of you on all these posters so (the police) know exactly who to go to.'"
"But at the same time," he continues, "There's so many people in this city who look like me that I have never been arrested. I've come close a few times and I know a few people who have been. Maybe I'm just lucky."