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Philly Street Art Interviews: Morg the Toilet is Keeping Sticker Art From Going Down The Drain

September 8, 2019

(Photos by Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale)

Welcome to Season 2 of Streets Dept’s newest series of street artist interviews, created in partnership with Philadelphia’s own unofficial official street art museum, Tattooed Mom. Each month, Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale will sit down with one local street artist to ask them about their work. Together, we’ll learn more about the incredible artists getting up around Philly.

In 2006, as eighth grade drew to a close, a 14-year-old kid in Philly started drawing on stickers with his best friends. The fledgling artist named himself Morg, and started drawing—what else?—a toilet. He soon found himself slapping up hundreds of stickers a week, exploring the city as he did. But as high school drew to a close and he began pursuing other interests, Morg stopped putting up as many stickers. Eventually, he stopped altogether.

 

Then, this past spring, Morg created an Instagram account and started drawing toilet stickers once again. It’s one of several times he’s found the sticker culture pulling him back in. There are many reasons he keeps returning, but chief among them is the role he sees sticker art playing in the overall health of the public art world.

Yes, the guy who draws a cartoon toilet character on Priority Mail stickers actually has a very nuanced understanding of art in the public space. Beyond his sticky origins, Morg also dabbled in graffiti, did a high school research project on Philadelphia Mural Arts, and studied sculpture in college, leaving him with a robust understanding of how art is inextricably connected to its environment. And sticker art is what kicked it all off!

When we met up for this interview, Morg started talking before I could ask him about any of this. Flush with memories of Philly’s early sticker art scene, he plunged right into stories of his heyday. So that’s where our conversation today begins—not with a question, but with Morg sharing some reflections on the early days.

Morg: In my mind, the evolution of stickers was: you start out with Bob and Toro, who basically had developed logos, like a brand. And they obviously played with it, but it was almost like a tag. Then, basically through collabs, we would all get together and draw. Those sessions of drawing were just amazing. Everyone was trying to draw better than the person [before them]. And it just kind of ratcheted up. Nose was such a spoiler, cause he would show up to those and spend an hour on one sticker. He’d just be there working, and everyone would be kind of curious about what he’s doing—and it’s like, he would have been using his finger to feather all the colors… it would be this masterpiece of a sticker! And he’d be like alright I gotta go now, and everyone would be like well I don’t want to draw on this! There’s no way I’m going to even come close to what you’ve just done! But it was that kind of spirit.

We were young—everyone else was probably in college or just out of college, and Malic, my buddy Bloopa, and I were all freshmen in high school. Which gave us such a leg up, in a certain respect because…

Streets Dept’s Eric Dale: …you didn’t have responsibilities!
Morg: We didn’t have anything! And we didn’t play sports… Like, we would get out of school, walk downtown, and put up stickers the whole way, and just walk around the city and put up all the stickers we had. We’d go home, and we’d spend all night drawing as many stickers as we could, and then do that again. I mean, we were putting up hundreds of stickers per week.

 

SD: I really want to get into that mindset! Like, why? Why is that what you did?
Morg: So you just caught me in a moment when I’ve sort of come back to this. Every couple of years—sometimes it will happen once a year—I always come back to it. And it always comes right back. It’s always this sense of once you put up a sticker, you want to put up another. And then when you run out, that’s the worst feeling of all, because you’re stuck! As soon as you run out of stickers, whatever your path home is, you’re gonna pass a million signs that make you go fuck! I wish I had stickers! I need—I NEED—stickers. Why am I out of stickers? So it’s kind of a paranoia. You just have to make as many as possible because the worst thing is to run out. I think that that’s a little bit of the process that starts it.

And then the other side of it is seeing other people up and being like I want to get as many up as they have. And a lot of it was also to try and go to weirder and weirder places. Center City had a real strong sticker scene, but it was kind of fun to be like we have a lot of stuff in this neighborhood that no one’s going to. But every now and then, someone would be out there and then come back and be like wow I saw your stuff in deep Northeast Philadelphia. What were you doing up there? And I think to some degree, that’s almost more fun than just being in the mishmash of Center City, and struggling to a) get as many up and b) continue to be up. Cause where there’s a lot of stickers, there’s also a lot of buff. If you’re putting stuff up outside of that, it’ll stay up a lot longer. I have stickers in West Philly, in North Philly, that have been riding for a decade, and that’s awesome. Whereas in Center City, it’d be really hard for me to believe that there’s that much that’s still riding from 2006, 2007. I mean it’s still fun—if I’m walking around, I’ll still put up a bunch, knowing that they’re only gonna live for a month or two.

 

SD: So now I have to ask the obvious: Why a toilet?
Morg: The story of why a toilet… So my buddy Bloopa got into stickers about six months before Malic and I did. We were in eighth grade, and he was not the most everyone join in! [type of guy]. He kept it a little bit to himself. But another friend of mine was doing stickers with him, and then sort of introduced that to Malic and I. Initially, the character I wanted to draw was a man on a toilet—I thought that would be more animated and more fun, but I had absolutely no skills whatsoever to speak of. So every attempt was a failure, and I ultimately said well, I’m just doing a toilet.

The name Morg? I have no real idea why I settled on that. I can tell you Malic looked at the back of some type of packaging, and there was malic acid [listed as an ingredient]. I think mine was probably similar in its creation, ‘cause we started doing it the same day. It was the end of eighth grade, and we were sitting there, just messing around, probably not thinking that whatever we landed on would be that significant; that’d we’d have an opportunity to change it up. It was sort of a dry run.

SD: So pure coincidence that it sounds like the place dead bodies are stored?
Morg: Yeah… You know? That was, I think, actually a part of it. Thank you—that’s probably what it was! I always forget about that ‘cause I’ve had different answers. Like, for a while, I was putting up stickers with different acronyms for it that were nonsensical. I remember one was Mountains Of… something… Grass? I don’t remember. Anyway, point being, it was sort of a thoughtless exercise we just stuck with, and years later, here we are. If you put your mind to anything, no matter how stupid, it will turn into something!

SD: What initially attracted you to sticker art?
Morg: Mostly, I think I had very grandiose ideas of what I was doing. We were 14 and we thought this is amazing; we’re gonna take over the world; we’re gonna be huge. Totally grandiose dreams to start with, but in time, a lot of it was just social. Me and two of my best friends would hang out and spend our time walking around the city. I was a freshman in high school—sort of my first time having a lot of freedom to just explore, and it’s how I got to know Philadelphia. We would just wander around every day after school, exploring different parts of the city and trying to go to distant corners to put stuff up.

And then the other side of it was the competitive nature of stickers: always wanting to be as up as possible, and always wanting to put stuff up that was of a certain quality. Wanting to play with textures, costumes, colors; playing with the scale of what kind of sticker or wheatpaste… And then the community—getting to know other sticker artists. That was a driving force, having these collaborative sessions where we would all meet up. I learned so much of my foundation of drawing from watching these guys. Under Water Pirates, Fingaz, Frog, Nose, Bob, Toro… Watching all those guys draw, I LEARNED how to draw! I’m no master artist even at this point, but the growth of my stickers was really because I spent time with those people and saw how they drew.

 

SD: It sounds like the best way to learn.
Morg: I think it’s a really organic process. Especially at that point, the scene was big, but there was a lot of sincerity among the people doing it, so it was still pretty open. It wasn’t like the cool kids club or something like that. I think the biggest divider was probably age. So because we were three freshmen in high school, there were definitely things that happened that we were not participating in.

SD: Have you worked in other mediums?
Morg: As far as art generally? Yeah! I studied sculpture. When I got to college and I was making work there, it was a huge departure from stickers and street art. And I think for a period of time, I felt a sense of pretension, you know? Sort of looking down my nose at the world of street art. They’re kind of different worlds, and I appreciate that. I don’t think it all has to fall under the same umbrella. It does, in terms of it all being art, but they exist for different audiences and with different purposes. I think street art and graffiti tends to be very graphic, and there’s an immediacy to it. I mean, you can spend a lot of time looking at a piece, but generally it’s supposed to draw you in immediately.

The work I was making [in college]—I’m a huge fan of minimalism and sort of quieter works that wouldn’t live as well on the street. At the same time, I always come back to stickers as something that’s really comfortable. And I think the lack of pretension that exists within it makes it a really universal medium. Anyone can do it—and you’ll be judged, fairly—but I don’t have to think too much about what it is. I don’t have to think about my work as it relates to everything else. Although obviously there’s lineage and there’s history, especially at this point. I mean, in 2006, when we were starting, “street art” wasn’t even really a word. People in my family would be like oh you’re doing graffiti, and I would be like no no no it’s street art, and no one had any sense of what that was. Banksy was still this anomaly. People were like [whispering] oh have you heard about this guy named Banksy? He had had like two headlines in the New York Times.

It was just a different moment, which made it kind of fun, because there couldn’t be pretension with it. It just wasn’t a thing in its own right. Putting up stickers was a subculture that hadn’t even blossomed into a subculture. It was just a group of people who were not cool enough to be out tagging up the city and at the same time were really into just drawing cartoon characters and sticking them up and hanging out. There was a sweetness and kind of an innocence that was really fun, that kind of goes away when you have a consciousness of what you’re doing and people are watching. It’s great to have people documenting and talking about it, but that also changes the innocence of how something happens.

SD: But now, I’m sure that same innocence is very nostalgic for you.
Morg: Totally! I think I also have the luxury of having done a lot of it. Like, at this point it’s just fun to come back, put stuff up, and hang out with people. But I don’t have the same innate need. Not only do I not have it, but I also probably can’t have it at this point in my life; like, I need to be out every day, putting up 100 stickers; I’m gonna take over this town. I sort of feel like I had that moment (not that we ever took over the city), but I don’t feel the same. I’m more whole than I was when I was 14.

 

SD: That’s deep! Haha. So when did you stop putting up stickers, well, for the first time, and why?
Morg: It was kind of like a petering out. I think I did it on and off pretty much until I got to college, so through high school. But the heyday, the bulk of when I was doing it, was probably ’06–’07. And then around 2008 it sort of diminished. I think part of that was a little bit of what I was saying about innocence. The scene had gotten even bigger, and I think we got a little bit disenchanted with it. There were a lot of people putting stuff up, and we maybe didn’t feel like it was quality? That sounds harsh, but I think that was our mindset. Now, when I look at people doing stuff, it just makes me happy that people are still doing it, but back then—as much as I’m talking about the innocence—we also had this real protective spirit about what we were doing. And as it kind of blew up, we were like uhh this is not as cool as it used to be. And then on top of that, I kind of got more into writing graffiti and felt like that was way more badass, and rough and tumble. That world was cool, in a sense, but it’s also pretty problematic in its own right. Especially back then—I don’t know what it’s like today, but Philly writers are… It’s not a very wholesome scene.

So I got to college, and I was suddenly in this more fine arts kind of world, and both mediums just kind of fell by the wayside. I was focusing more on working in more traditional mediums, whether it was painting or sculpture… And to be honest, a lot of my sculpture work did still reflect back to this idea of installation and this idea of environment, which is so critical to street art, to graffiti, to all of that. This idea of where are you putting your stuff and how does it live within that environment. I had always had an interest in work existing beyond a gallery or beyond walls, and street art influenced that for sure.

I’ve come back to it a few times over the years. My buddy Malic and I will open our black books and be like oh man! Why did we ever stop? And we’ll have a moment where we’ll be like let’s just make a bunch of stickers and put them up! And we’ll do it for a little bit, and then life is life and you sort of get sidetracked and something happens, and six months go by. It’s the classic, like, quarter-life-crisis-type thing. Like oh man, my glory years! But at the same time, I hope to just always be throwing up a little. There’s an innocent quality to it regardless. It’s a sticker!

That’s the thing that’s always funny to me. Like even today, I go out, and I feel so self-conscious, like I’m doing the most criminal thing, putting this sticker up on this sign, waiting for the police to come and grab me and throw me against a wall. Then I put it up and I’m like why am I so nervous about this? This is a sticker! What are they gonna do, tell me to tear it down? Haha!

I remember years ago, I was out with Malic, Under Water Pirates, Ticky, and I think Frog, and we were down by the Reading Terminal, putting up stickers, and it was one of the few moments where someone stopped us. It was a guy who was, like, a trolley tour driver. They were parked down there, just idling, and he saw us. He was so incensed. He was like HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IT IF I PUT ONE OF THOSE STICKERS ON YOUR FACE? It was this big blowup. And that line… man. For a really long time, everyone would always be like how would you like it if I put that sticker on your face? as a joke, cause it’s like… what a ridiculous thing to say! It’s a metal box, man. If you put it on my face—that’s assault! They’re not really comparable!

I have a big truck that someone could easily come and tag, and I would be a little perturbed, for sure. But at the same time, there is this complicated line. Because if something exists in public space, even if it’s private, it’s public in the sense that we all have to exist with it. So, yeah, it’s your wall, but at the same time, we have to look at it every single day. I think there’s sort of a conventional sense of what we all want to look at, but that’s decided on by a certain group of people. I’m not arguing for a free for all where you can just tag whatever you want—there should be some respect. But I don’t think if you own something that’s public that it means you have full rights over what that thing looks like. I think there has to be a responsibility to the community and to the people that live there to make it something that everyone can enjoy.

I think the argument that comes from a lot of people is that I own this space, or I own this building, or I own this thing, and therefore I have full rights to do whatever I want with it. Well, no, you don’t. There’s a million things you could put there that people would be like no, you have to tear that down immediately! So it’s not as simple as one side is right and one side is wrong. There’s a total middle path that has to be walked, and the best way to have that happen is to allow for conversations to exist around this, and to listen to people.

 

I think the beauty of stickers is that it’s such a small thing. That’s what’s significant to me—I’m not out here covering the city—this is just a little mark. It’s a little piece of art; it’s gonna fade, it’s gonna fall off… You don’t even have to buff it. Please, by all means spend your time scratching it off, or—my new ultimate pet peeve, which I can’t even believe they’re doing—the painting? What is that?! Where they just paint over it? It looks SO MUCH WORSE!!! It’s unbelievable. It makes my head explode when I see that. It’s gross! I don’t even want to touch the box! So to me, I think there should be this element in our society where people are able to have small gestures and influence their environment in small ways. That’s not a headache. I don’t think someone is going to lose their mind because they had to look at a toilet sticker with a tie. It’s so small.

Every sticker artist to some extent will touch on the idea of the scavenger hunt. Not everyone’s going to notice it. Most people don’t. But there’s a community of people who produce and a community of people who enjoy stickers, who look for them, and it’s fun! It’s fun to know that that person was there. That part of it, to me, is really kinda special. When you see stickers that are really old and know that in 2006 this person was there. It’s an amazing way of preserving an insignificant history of someone’s existence.

I think there’s responsibility on the part of the City and on the part of the community to still find spaces where people can create things without a curator. There are public art spaces, but a lot of them require going through a third party that’s gonna vet you and approve your project. And the beauty of street art or putting stuff in abandoned buildings is… just go in and do it! Who cares? Who cares if it sucks? That’s kind of the best part—as much as I want to crap on stuff, actually, it’s really fun when you see stuff like that. Some of the best stickers are just random one-off stickers that a kid put up with no sense of what they’re doing or the intent. And that should be protected.

SD: Hey, you’ve got my vote!
Morg: Haha.

SD: How do you feel that the Anti-Graffiti Network turned into Mural Arts?
Morg: Um… I mean, it makes sense! You know, I feel weird about Mural Arts. I actually did a big project when I was in high school—I did a whole documentary on them. I mean, I like what they do, but I think that they unfortunately have a little bit of a monopoly on the public art scene in Philly, which gives them a lot of influence and a lot of power. And because they grew out of this Anti-Graffiti Network, there’s always going to be an element of that in there. And the irony is that they operate like a graffiti crew in their own right! They have their walls, they’re putting stuff up, and you don’t cross them! You don’t wanna tag their stuff! It’s funny that they’re the anti-graffiti crew, because their goals are very much aligned with what any writer would want. To be the most up, to have the most murals—it just so happens that they have the Pew Foundation funding them.

I think they’ve done some great murals, I think they’ve hired some great mural artists, and they’ve kind of stepped away from what my biggest gripe was for a lot of years—that they were kind of making a lot of the same murals. Part of that isn’t their fault. I mean, they go into a community—it’s exactly what I was just talking about. They listen to the community, which IS important when you talk about public space, but at the same time, communities often look at the mural in the other neighborhood, and think I like that mural. I want that type of mural here. And as much as that makes sense, and you want that input, it also can stagnate the growth and the creativity, because everyone ultimately winds up wanting the same thing. And you need to have artists in there who can steer it, and say that mural is great. But that’s their mural. We want to do something for you that’s special, that’s different.

Again, we were talking about those public spaces and the impact of having someone who curates all those spaces, and Mural Arts is a great example of heavy curation. It’s awesome they provide a medium and a format to artists, but the problem is: who are those artists? How do you become one of those artists? It’s not like any person can just walk in and do it. And maybe they shouldn’t! That would be insane, to let anyone produce a mural of a large scale. And that’s kind of why I think stickers are a nice thing. It’s small and insignificant, but it gives everyone the ability to put up a little art in their community, or just do something for themselves, without having to go through that multi-step process with Mural Arts.

 

SD: How has your character evolved over time?
Morg: Heavily! My original sticker was crude—really crude. Kind of awesomely crude. There’s something almost better about it—the perspective was incorrect. It was looking at the toilet in a way that was not possible. That’s where it started. Getting cleaner with your lines, putting in cross-hatching from time to time… I was always really into patterns; I’ve always been into creating fills that are interesting, and then playing with that more and more. For a period in time, I had a lot of fun doing sponsored stickers…

SD: Sponsored?
Morg: Yeah, I would just make up brands that were sponsoring me, so like, “brought to you by Disney!” And I would draw all these logos, and they were really fun. You can operate with little recourse. Like, no one’s going to come after you—not that they would even care or notice…

SD: “Disney sues Philadelphia sticker artist this week…”
Morg: That would be great! It would bring me to a national level!

SD: You could finally achieve what you were looking for when you were a freshman!
Morg: All that fame, man. But yeah, it’s graduated many stages. I think one piece that was really cool when we first started [was collab stickers]. There was a real emphasis back in the day to do collaborative stickers that were super goofy. It would be like “everyone at the beach!” I love collaborative stickers now, where there’s themes and stuff, but the old collaborative stickers were much more awkward. Everyone’s sort of drawing their character in a scene, and then you would finish out the scene. It didn’t have the same kind of boldness. A lot of stickers are about this kind of bold, easily readable, very succinct image, and these were just crude, in a really awesome way. The scene sort of evolved out of that, and I think I did as well.

SD: What did you think of the recent “Have you seen me?” series of pastes that called for a revival of hand drawn stickers in Philly?
Morg: I love it! I think that’s great.

SD: What retired sticker artist would you like to see start putting up work again?
Morg: Who’s considered retired? Cause I don’t want to be like oh that person should put up work and have them be like I’m not retired!

SD: I don’t know, I would say anyone who hasn’t put up work in more than a year? If you want to be conservative, more than two years!
Morg: That’s hard. There’s so many… I think the snootiest answer would be EM3, cause I don’t think he’s put up stickers in 15 years. I don’t think he was putting up stickers when I was putting up stickers. He was just this weird anomaly, and it was kind of awesome. But there’s a lot of people. I think the people that I was drawing with back in the day—just all of those guys.

 

SD: What’s your lunch order at Tattooed Mom?
Morg: I’ll go with poutine tots!

SD: Thanks for popping back into the sticker scene and doing this interview!
Morg: Thanks for inviting me and I can’t wait to show some work this fall at Tattooed Mom’s.

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PHILLY: Join Tattooed Mom’s for The Horror! A Friday the 13th Group Art Show! this Friday, September 13 starting at 6pm!

It’s the most spooky time of year—Friday the 13th! Celebrate the occasion with an art show, pop-up, and an evening full of HORROR, brought to you by the artists behind the South Street Art Mart!

Vendors include: Night Owl Designs, TapedOffTV, Burden On Society, Wantful Things, Vampire Vampire Boy, Stitched and Bewitched, S T U D I O H O U S E Designs, Sara Casey Makes, Big Trouble Fashion, Evan Void, Not Ov This Realm, Monique Ligons, and Stevie Mak.

Learn more now here! (21+, Upstairs)

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Read past articles from our Philly Street Art Interviews series by clicking the artists name: Hope HummingbirdFaithsFunnnBob Will ReignTaped Off TVLow LevelVoid SkullsKid HazoUnder Water Pirates, Symone Salib, and SEPER!

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