Art & Art History

University of Mississippi

Q & A with BFA Eli Morgan

Interviewer: Frank Estrada | Photographer: Olivia Whittington

Be sure to check out his BFA Thesis Exhibition, Mount. Eye, next week in Gallery 130. It will run from November 18th-22nd, with a reception on Thursday, November 21stat 4:30 PM!

Give Eli a follow on Instagram, at @eliartum!


Introduce yourself
My name is Eli Morgan. I am a senior BFA student with an emphasis in Graphic Design. I also did a BA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing while I was here. In my thesis, I really want to combine those two degrees and have some sort of amalgamation of my career here at Ole Miss.

What type of artist to you consider yourself?
For a long time, I considered myself an illustrator, but now I consider myself more of graphic artist. The education process here is more tailored to designing for production, advertisement, and packaging, but the instructors also really work to cater to individual interests that could relate to design. Within my personal work, I really consider myself that focuses mainly in book publishing and book design. All these skills that I’ve learned so far, especially in illustration, combining those within that format with book and jacket design have allowed me to really branch into other areas of design that I am interested in.


Could you talk about some of the works you’ve created?
Everything that I’ve created aesthetically, I try to keep on brand for myself. Whatever the perimeters of the project; whether it be printmaking, ceramics, photography, I have always had an eye for more vintage stylistic choices. Within my own personal work, I like to emulate that wear and tear by using toned or natural papers, with grainer aesthetics and nostalgic imagery that I might find personal to me.” Mainly staying on brand with what I like and what I don’t like. Even though that’s kind of hard to describe within itself to anyone.

What type of art inspires you?
Going back to books, I’ve always been inspired by dollar store copies of books or if you go thrifting for books you can see the life it might have lived beforehand. That secondhand nature, and the mystery of who might have owned it before has always held a mystical nature to me. I also love the old school John William Waterhouse paintings.”. Even going back to old school old school comics or vintage National Geographic magazines or PBS art documentaries. A lot of different things that I grew up with inspired me but are not necessarily related.

What artists inspire you?
Comic book artists like Bryan Lee O’Malley who combines art with narrative has always been really inspiring to me. Tony DiTerlizzi, he did all the old school Spiderwick Chronicles illustrations. Basically, any way art and literature can cross reference each other.There is also this artist known as ‘Steelberg’ who redesigns modern movie and tv show posters into these really cool, authentic Blockbuster VHS tapes that I think are absolutely fantastic. His work was a huge inspiration for a lot of the work I did in developing the cover for my book.


How has the department fostered your growth as an artist?
Going into it I really didn’t know how art school would be or what would be expected of me at all. Especially when I transferred here, I didn’t transfer as an art student. I kind of always wanted to be an art student, so making that decision when I came here was me fulfilling a dream of mine. When it came to learning here, I didn’t expect it to be a close-knit community. I was expecting it to be more along the lines of the other departments that I had experienced so far on campus, hundreds of thousands of students you really get to form a connection with. But within the art department its very close-knit and being able to work closely with your teachers has allowed me to be more comfortable with the work I produce. I also found it more comfortable to ask questions as well, given how personable the class environment could be. I found confidence in the fact that I don’t have to be afraid about approaching anyone about my art. Through the community here I’ve grown confidence-wise because of them.


What were you studying before becoming an art major?
When I came here I studied chemistry. When I graded high school, I went to community college for two years. I always had a passion for art and literature in high school but there was also this stigma of not finding a fruitful career within those fields, so I pursued what I thought at the time would have been the option that lead to a stable job, which was pharmacy school. The pharmacy department is huge. I had always done well in science. I was always a straight A student. So, I told myself, “I can do this!” I can easily manage my personal interest on the side and have a serious career. The moment I got to Ole Miss and started these chemistry classes, I hated it. I think that was the one time in my life where I was like really dissatisfied with school. I was making poorer grades because I couldn’t manage the work. It wasn’t physically rewarding to me. I was aware that there was an art department on campus but I didn’t know anything about it. I definitely was more away of the English department on campus, mainly because of the strong presence of Faulkner there is in Oxford. I decided if I was going to change my major to something other than science or anything else in high demand, I had to double down. I did two degrees because I felt that was justifying me doing anything. So if I worked to death that would be justifying what I did. After being burned by my one semester in the sciences, I definitely was apprehensive going into these other two fields, but what I found was that I acclimated way better to these subject. I really began to enjoy the classes and education process again within these fields, even if the workload between them was kind of insane. But I loved every minute of it. But I did manage to get down in four years! Praise to myself. Going into it, I was kind of hesitate too because they always talked about the job prospect of once you graduate. But now that I’m a senior and leaving, I definitely feel more secure in terms of jobs. I definitely believe there should be more visibility in terms of prospective jobs for incoming transfers or freshmen in these liberal arts fields, because I really feel that some of these stigmas around these areas of study really discredit how great an opportunity it is to study and their legitimacy as careers.


When you came into the Art Department, what made you choose the BFA?
It was always something that I heard from classmates and other professors that would put you on the map in terms of jobs once you graduate. At that stage in my educational career, I still had this mentality that the outcome was to get a stable job once i graduated, so before I knew anything really about the BFA in itself I definitely wanted to at least try for it to boost my academic success. It was once I had actually passed the interview stage of the program did I really realize what a creative challenge the process would be. However, having that challenge I feel really pushed me beyond my boundaries and in the end led me to make more quality work. This, verses the BA which gives a broader education, really allowed me to hone my practice and feel confident in my skills that I would have once I did finally enter into the job force. Those skills also extend beyond just artistic practice, and I feel now more confident in public speaking, presentation, and just overall professional conducting myself in a work environment.

Any good experiences here in the art dept?
I’ve had tons of good experiences here! I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve made a ton of life long friends here. I’ve had a great amount of opportunities to travel. I met my boyfriend here. There are always opportunities to show your work within in the gallery or working outside the gallery with the Holiday Art Sale or extracurricular. We also founded our own design club here which is kind of amazing. There are so many I can’t narrow it down to one specific story.

What is your club called?
It’s called GRID which stand for Getting Rebels Into Design. It’s mainly focused around graphic design but anyone is welcome to join no matter what your interests are. We mainly talk about graphic design, plan trips that relate to graphic design, production companies, or ad agencies in the area or conferences. During the holiday art sale, which usually falls around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, we sell a variety of student made gift cards, postcards, posters, and other items that would cater to that market.
“Our main objective is to just foster a community of student designers here at the University. The industry is huge and can kind of seem daunting at times for those just beginning their path towards design as a career, so our prerogative is to just foster that interest and maybe demystify some of the anxiety about the industry.


What kind of conferences did you attend?
There was the Crop Conference last year which was in Baton Rouge. Crop is a graphic design conference which is mainly geared towards people in the industry already, but we went as a group of students. So, it was really enlightening to see the setting of people already established in the industry and how they come together outside of their workspace.
They hosted different events and keynote speakers about their processes and their backstory in getting into design or having workshops where they do different types of things like hand lettering or even doing screenprinting which crosses back into printmaking. Those two fields have always gone hand-in-hand. We also toured Crosstown Concourse in Memphis recently where they have an art gallery as well and a design agency that’s in house. They were all designed by Loaded for Bear which is a design company located outside Memphis. Getting out into the world and seeing people that are within the field, outside of education, and how they have reached that point in their careers can be really inspiring to students. Like I have said before, it can seem very daunting to leave school and find that job, so having that visibility and knowing that the job market is strong really can be a reassuring thing to students, as well as inspiriting to see what other creatives within the field are making.

Talking about “What do I do now?” what are your plans after graduating?
I definitely plan on going to graduate school, hopefully within publication or education. I love to combine these two fields and see where it leads me, but also I love the process of learning and helping others learn, and how that classroom environment can lead to so many cool and new things. Right now, I’m looking at schools from Connecticut to West Virginia, to Michigan State and many others.

Any advice for incoming art students?
You definitely have to feel your way through the classes, especially if you go the BFA route. Just know yourself well enough to know what you can properly manage. Of course, the staff here at Meek are more than accommodating and help students every step of the way in the best way they can. Studio classes in themselves can be more strenuous than regular college course, mainly because of their time. Each studio runs close to two hours and 45 minutes, so that in itself can take some adjusting to. Studio classes are pretty demanding. I definitely recommend that no matter the BA or BFA route, pick up a class check sheet and make a planned schedule for yourself and what classes are required of you. Also having the dedication to working in the studio after-hours a lot because that’s another big factor, the after-hours!

Parting advice?
Not being ashamed of whatever you want to do. I know its a cheesy and cliché thing to say in such an accepting place like Meek Hall, but putting your work out there for others to see can be a really scary experience. That, at least for me, was the biggest hurdle to get through; it all just comes with time and practice. It’s taken me a long time to rationalize what I wanted to make for myself. Traditionally, Graphic Design is an industry, where designers are predominantly working for someone else and their creative vision. That of course is fine, and you have to accept it as a part of the job, but I also say it’s important to make work that satisfies your own needs. When it came to my thesis project, I wanted to create something that was wholly my own, and that satisfied all those creative needs that I had. Something that I have learned now later in this process is that when making something, you yourself have to be satisfied with it, and that for me is the whole point of creating something. That’s my big speech, my big soapbox.