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DreamWeaver

Artist Christine Morla comes full circle, lacing her local upbringing and Filipino roots together in kaleidoscopic patterns that document her life—and express Oxnard’s unique spirit of place.

By Mark Storer

Photo by Karen Parkhouse

 

hristine Morla’s art is tactile and lucid. Weaving strips of found paper with painstaking precision and designing art that, in this case, is inspired by the landscapes of her home in Oxnard, Morla creates vistas of shape and color in three-dimensional outlines, some placed on panels, some placed directly on walls. The weaving is a process, a long one, but like the story of her life and work, it flows and is made inextricably stronger by the challenges faced, the obstacles overcome.

Her latest installation at the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard, Kaleidoscopic Gaze, is a patterned blend of these designs, morphing into sky and sea, ground and flower, fences and streets. It’s Morla’s life in patterns and bits of finely tuned surprises found on each wall.

What’s remarkable is that her time consuming artwork is but a small part of the story. Morla is a teacher—and she’s just as passionate about sharing art and design as she is about creating it. A full-time professor of art at Oxnard College and currently the gallery director and chair of the art department, her resume is thick with testaments to a career of production and work.

Her passions are family and home, and a spirit of place is palpable in her work. “I grew up in south Oxnard. I’m a home girl, went to Channel Islands High School,” Morla said. “I graduated from art school at Loyola Marymount, though, and I knew I wanted to teach. So I got in touch with a mentor and she said I just needed to teach all levels.” So Morla applied for a gig with a non-profit organization called Theatre of Hearts/Youth First and began teaching art in Inglewood and South Central Los Angeles. “The kids were coming from some pretty rough neighborhoods,” Morla said. “Some were really high energy, while others were sluggish. I worked with them for about three months, along with a poet, getting the kids to talk about and create work about their neighborhoods and their lives.”



A first-generation Filipino American, Morla collects colorful packaging from Filipino snack foods, cuts them into thin strips, and meticulously weaves geometric and floral shapes. New life emerges from unconventional materials once thought of as detritus.

Morla also taught at a probation center in L.A. “These kids just needed an outlet to express themselves. I had to work pretty intuitively and pull all my tricks out of the hat. I learned so much about working with young people. It was a really intense time.” In all, she spent some 10 years in Los Angeles before coming back home to Oxnard.

“I was still a kid when I was doing this, 23 or 24, and even though I grew up in south Oxnard, I was really sheltered,” she said. “The neighborhood was pretty mellow in the ‘70s. That changed, of course.”

Morla leads a kind of organic life. Her art, her teaching, even her family, all relate in a symbiotic way. “My parents came from the Philippines with almost nothing, so they wanted me to do something practical; they didn’t want me to struggle,” she explained. “They had two or three jobs while I was growing up. It was a hard life, but it was a blessing.”

Afforded the opportunity to go to college, Morla heeded her mom’s advice and thought about a “practical” career. She majored in psychology. “I found myself failing a class in my major and it was very humbling. My dad and I talked by phone and he asked, ‘What classes are you getting As in?’ I was getting As in drawing, painting, and art history, and it clicked: I knew I could teach. It was a practical career that would make me happy.”

It wasn’t the first time her father’s words and work influenced her. In the Philippines, he wove rugs in patterns similar to the ones she creates now. She says it was unconscious at first, but now she sees his work in her own.



“In graduate school, I was open to anything,” she said. “I was getting close to presenting my thesis and wasn’t sure what I was going to do.” That’s when she found a mat her father had woven in the Philippines. “I think that subconsciously found its way into my work.”

Morla describes that work as being very much related to painting or more traditional art forms. “As far as painting goes, I’m still dealing with the formal elements in this work of color value, composition, light, and space. But as far as process and materials, it’s more labor intensive: cutting the papers and then doing the weavings based on sizes of the strips.”



Kaleidoscopic Gaze is a collection of such weavings that began for Morla in 1998. In one of the exhibit rooms, panels are all full of weavings that feature abstract representations of Oxnard landscapes. “It all comes full circle for me,” she explains. “It’s a documentation of my life that way.

Art and teaching are, of course, symbiotic. They are both optimistic representations that there is something worth knowing about creation and creators. They are both hopeful about the future. “This is what I love about being at Oxnard [College],” said Morla. “I look at these young people’s faces and I see myself. I know about their living situations and what they’re going through. I’m from here. It’s my home. There are a few students who go on to some creative field, and I feel like I had some part in that. It feels so great.”

08-01-13

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