by Matt Ayres
Phil Morgan isn’t the type of artist to labour over his work for years, months, weeks or even days. This Cardiff-based illustrator creates each of his pieces in a few hours, churning out an astonishing number of artworks for a variety of impressive clients including Coca Cola, Urban Outfitters and mobile phone network Giffgaff.
“I’ve always drawn, starting from a really young age,” he tells The Essential Cyclist over a pint in a pub that’s just down the road from one of his latest street art creations. “It was the only thing that really kept me quiet. I was always good at it in school, from primary to secondary school, but I never went on to study it. At that time I didn’t fancy going to university. I wanted to just get any kind of job, earn money and socialise with friends.”
Although Phil stayed creative during this period with photography work and eight years playing bass guitar in a local punk band, it wasn’t until a stint working at a Cardiff surf and skate shop that he became motivated to pick up his artist’s pencil again. “By this stage I’d had well in the region of 40 different jobs since I’d left school,” he admits. “It was a bit like ‘right, what am I gonna do with the rest of my life?’ In 2008, my friend Matthew Ryan was running Crayon Skateboards and ran a competition to design a graphic for the next season’s launch.
“It was the first time I’d got back into my art. The graphic I designed didn’t win the competition, but Matthew was like ‘you should really do that as a graphic anyway.’ So it ended up coming out as a graphic about four months later, and I followed on by doing another two graphics, which ended up being a full board series with Crayon.”
The hardcore mentality of skateboarding and punk rock became a big influence in Phil’s work – he speaks animatedly about his relentless work ethic. “Even when I’m not working, I end up painting from first thing in the morning until late at night,” he says. “I try to be as active as possible by painting something new every day. A lot of my work will start with sketches or doodles. I basically outline it, paint it, as soon as I’m done I Instagram it and then I’m on to the next one.
“I’ve got so much work at home, I’m sitting on a pile of work to do another solo exhibition. I’m just waiting for the right time to do it.”
In terms of style, Phil cites a variety of influences: iconic artists like Picasso and Warhol as well as contemporary names such as Scottish illustrator David Shrigley. On top of visual art, he takes his cues from the brash sounds of punk bands including Minor Threat, Fugazi and The Pixies. “Their ethics are the same as the way I like to approach my artwork: always evolving and never sitting on one idea,” he explains.
It all culminates in an idiosyncratic style, combining splashes of three to four contrasting colours in humorous and surreal images. Cardiff residents can see original Phil Morgan artworks around the city in the form of street art, and he has also painted in other UK cities including Nottingham and London, with aspirations to leave his mark on legendary street art meccas such as Berlin and Los Angeles. While Phil admits that he prefers working in his studio than on the streets, he is quick to defend street art as a powerful tool for expression and as a creative way to brighten up depressing urban sprawl.
“We’ve had people from all over the world coming to Cardiff and doing what places like London and Bristol have been doing for years,” he says. “It definitely puts us on the map. People will come and have a look at work by these world-renowned artists and think ‘that’s amazing.’ I definitely think it’s important, and I think there should be more of it in Cardiff. We should be like Bristol, London, even Berlin.”
The variety of projects Phil gets to work on means he is rarely bored, although he does have a ‘bucket list’ of ideas that he would love to see come into fruition during his career. “When I first held that skateboard graphic that was just like, wow, if I don’t do anything else creatively, that’ll be on my wall forever,” he reminisces. “But since that I’ve made a list of other things that I really want to do. Some of them I’ve ticked, like being in a national newspaper (the Washington Post), or illustrating for a hot sauce brand (Cardiff barbecue legends Hang Fire Smokehouse).
“I’d still like to work on a beer label, or a coffee brand. There’s always more things. I’m going to be working on a children’s story. If that happens and it gets published, that’s another one to tick off.”
The future certainly looks colourful for Phil – with work lined up for high profile clients as well as independent projects to keep his passion for illustration aflame, keep an eye out for the next Phil Morgan masterpiece on a skateboard deck, wall or hot sauce bottle near you.
To see more of Phil's work and check out his online store, head over to his website.