John Morse showed an early interest in art and at age 11 was invited to join twice-weekly evening oil painting classes for adults in the small Southern town of his childhood, Lake City, Florida. He attended for four years and soon earned commissions painting portraits, landscapes and murals. At the age of 15 he started working as a sign painter, including interstate billboards, a skill that he would use for employment in his early art career. At 16, he left home and moved to the Oregon coast where he worked in poster arts, watercolors and super-graphic murals. With the exception of high school art classes, he received no further formal art training.
In 1981, he moved to Barcelona where he painted and sold watercolors of street scenes. When funds for materials ran low, he often created collage landscapes and portraits from found papers, usually litter. Soon, he was hired as art director at Diagonal, a leading art and culture magazine of Spain. While in Barcelona, he and fellow expatriate Brice Hammack formed Chi-Perro Studios, creating art and fashion from disposable plastics such as trash bags, grocery sacks and plastic wrap. Morse's current studio, Star Dog Studio, is based in Atlanta and New York. Ross Douglas Pedersen, Morse's husband, directs the studio.
In 1982, Morse returned to America, arriving for the first time in New York City, which became his new home. From 1984 to 1988, he produced "A-R-T," a silent, 30-minute program on Manhattan Cable Television that each week presented a single screen image intended to convert the television into a sculptural box. The first episode offered the interior of an oven baking a chicken, while later episodes included clothes tumbling in a dryer, a static focus on a single black hole, and a steady view out of his apartment window.
In 1986 he joined in the effort to help in the creation of Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, New York, as an abandoned landfill was transformed into an international sculpture center, dedicated to the exhibition of monumental work. He soon joined the park's board of directors, serving until 2000. Over the years, he created several works for the park, including opening day installations, flag sculptures and a mural that still stands at the park's eastern edge. Socrates is now part of the New York City Parks Department.
His collages, sculptures, installations, watercolors and drawings have been exhibited at the Kentler International Drawing Space, Brooklyn; Islip Art Museum, Islip, New York; the DUMBO Art Center, Brooklyn; Match Fine Print, New York City, the Abernathy Arts Center in Atlanta, the Hudgens Center for the Arts in Duluth, Georgia, as well as galleries across the United States. Upcoming shows include his first solo exhibit in Chelsea at the Luise Ross Gallery opening May 2 and a solo exhibit of his portraits, along with a site-specific installation, at Arts Santa Monica in Barcelona, opening September 25.
His work is in the private collections of, among others, sculptor Mark di Suvero; New York Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, Kate Levin; New York Commissioner of Transportation, Janette Sadik-Khan; installation artist and sculptor Eve Sussman; Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love; and Jacques d'Amboise, founder of the National Dance Institute.
Morse is also a prolific writer, having written several non-fiction titles published by Monacelli Press, McGraw-Hill, Henry Holt and Random House. In 2005 he created 39 original collages for Categories: On the Beauty of Physics, published by Vernacular Press and described by Raina A. Lampkins-Fielder of the Whitney Museum of Art as "a creative and liberating journey of the mind." In 2010, ten of his haiku poems were featured on 500 'bandit' signs posted around the streets of Atlanta, a guerilla installation that received extensive press coverage including The New Yorker, The Guardian, NPR and South Africa National Radio.
In 2011, the New York City Department of Transportation commissioned Morse to create a street installation of art and poetry called Curbside Haiku, 12 images of street signs mimicking the visual cues of common streets signs accompanied with 12 different haiku. The project has received worldwide press coverage and several accolades.
In 2012, Curbside Hiku earned Morse the Brendan Gill Prize by the Municipal Art Society of New York, given annually to an artist whose work captures "the energy and spirit of New York." Previous winners include Ang Lee, Louis Malle, the Starn Twins and Christo and Jeanne Claude for "The Gates." Curbside Haiku was also selected as one of the 50 outstanding works of public art in the country the Americans for the Arts Public Arts Network, the nation's largest organization of public arts administrators.
Morse is currently working on two new street art commissions with New York's Department of Transportation, both scheduled to launch in spring 2013.