MorYork: A surreal journey into the mind of Eagle Rock artist Clare Graham

Credit: Matthew Riback

As viewers drift between sculptures of bird bones, towers of buttons and pyramids composed of old wooden rulers, reality in MorYork seems to be made of the same energy that fuels dreams. A space for art and local events, MorYork is a place to meander and lose oneself in the imagination, history and vision of Eagle Rock-based artist Clare Graham. A vast and eclectic library composed of Graham’s personal curiosities, this sacred space awaits anyone who pauses to ponder. A sense of weightlessness combines with feelings of awe and magic, creating an experience that feels all the more special when considering that, from the outside, MorYork could just as easily be an abandoned warehouse.

Though Graham’s art remains the central focus, MorYork also serves as an event space, hosting book club meetings, concerts and dance productions.

Describing his vision, Graham explained that MorYork is a physical representation of his mental imprints, a naked manifestation of that which nurtured who he is today.

“MorYork is a very specific vanity project that catalogues my specific journey through the maze of life and aging,” Graham said. “It is meant only as one man’s self-absorbed path, but by being completely revealing [it] may serve as reflective for others who share similar passions, concerns, interests or fears.”

Walking through MorYork, I felt as if I was peeking into a shoebox stashed deep in a dresser drawer hidden by socks and underwear, a treasure chest of materials that only a child would cherish. This experience represents Graham’s curious nature.

“When [I was] a young person, my grandparents gave me a roll top desk,” Graham said. “As one of five children, each with territorial issues, it became my private cabinet of curiosities reflecting my youthful enthusiasms. I could reign over a collection ferreted away in drawers, nooks and crannies, of stones, leaves and pet bones.”

Currently, Graham noted that MorYork has become an expansive adult version of that nascent roll top desk. Making the metaphor even more realistic, cabinets lay riddled throughout the building, and viewers are encouraged to open them. The outside of one is covered completely by scrabble letters; on the inside walls of another are pasted pages of poems. One, by John Donne, reads:

Go and catch a falling star

Get with child a mandrake root

Tell me where all past years are

Or who cleft the devil’s foot

Teach me to hear the mermaid’s singing.

It is easy to feel that sense of childhood wonder, a mixture of personal memories and experiences sharpened by the wisdom that comes with age.

While it may appear otherwise, Graham was not always dedicated to the intrinsic value of creating art solely for oneself. For 25 years, Graham served as a managing art director at the Walt Disney Company, where he found art to be limited by bureaucracy. His current creative style exists as a reaction to this long corporate tenure.

“In corporate life, every solution was guided by style manuals and brand management issues and ultimately reviewed by concerns of profit and time,” Graham said. “After retiring from working for Disney directors or clients needing Disney brand management, the opportunity to work solely for my own aesthetic ends was revelatory.”

He now works without restrictions, at his own pace, with deeply personal content. Unique to Graham’s style is his focus on recycled materials. Throughout his time as an artist, Graham has used approximately 3.5 billion buttons and over 15.5 million pop tops. He does not use interns or assistants, and has therefore dedicated vast amounts of time to the simple task of sorting through his materials. It is not uncommon to find in MorYork benches and chairs composed entirely of pop tops.

“[These hand-eye coordination tasks] leaves one’s mind free to think, cogitate and enter a zone of meditative revery about numbers and all manners of interrelated mind sparks,” Graham said. “Every project included in MorYork is like a diary for the time spent assembling the materials, cleaning and sorting them, making maquettes and samples and fabricating pieces.”

Graham thrives on early morning hunting and gathering at flea markets, thrift store runs and garage sale visits. He repeatedly uses what he refers to as simple, basic units: buttons, yardsticks, pop tops, feathers, scrabble tiles, human molars and more.

“The material itself carries with it the residue of post-consumer use, be it the patina from years of a child’s love for a stuffed animal or the residual prayer aura that a rosary that was used for years leaves behind,” Graham said. “If one could decode the DNA of objects, their life stories would tell millions of tales.”

More than just art, Graham’s pieces reflect the shared human experience. They are silky webs that weave past emotional ties with modern representations of love, wonder, fear and amazement.

“Each of us has, within us, such a collection,” Graham said. “I hope to keep mine open to others’ gaze.”

Readers are encouraged to visit MorYork at 4959 York Blvd, Los Angeles.

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