The walls of Burton Morris’ home pop with his colorfully painted canvases: a graphic butterfly, an olive-brimming martini, an oversized bag of popcorn, and rows of red Coca-Cola bottles.
A self-declared post-pop artist, Morris playfully reinterprets and paints objects embedded in popular culture with a distinct look and universal message of positivity. “My first creations were symbols,” he recalled during an interview in his family’s home just outside Los Angeles. “And the symbols were iconic images: a graphic image of a coffee cup, a popcorn box, a taxicab. But each symbol represents something going on in today's culture.”
Morris grew up in Pittsburgh, home to his hero Andy Warhol. The two artists also share an alma mater – Carnegie Mellon University – where Morris studied graphic design and fine art. “I loved etchings and line artwork, old engravings,” he said. “Over the years, my style evolved and eventually led to the paintings I'm doing today.” He describes his signature look as “very bold and graphic,” inspired his lifelong love of comic books and the medium’s affinity for vivid colors and dramatic iconography.
Morris’ big break came in 1992 when his coffee cup painting graced the walls of the Central Perk cafe on the hit TV show Friends.
“I had no idea it would become a number-one show,” he says. “And the great thing is that it became part of popular culture, so my art was ingrained in people's minds as part of popular culture. Even today, I could turn on the show and there's a good chance I'll see one of my artworks hanging up in the shot.
“The coffee cup really became a symbol for me and my work. Whenever I would have shows in Asia or Europe, people would say, ‘You're the artist from Friends.’ It opened up so many doors and new opportunities for me.”
In his ongoing search for objects with cultural significance, Morris saw Coca-Cola as a natural subject. A lifelong fan of both the Coca-Cola beverage and brand, he was always enamored by its visual identity. “I loved the bottle design… the red and the white, and the shape itself,” he explains. “It just has such a classic feeling… the bottle and topography themselves are art. As an artist, when I look at it, dozens of ideas run through my mind.”
In 2015, to honor the 100th anniversary of the Coca-Cola bottle, Morris channeled those ideas onto his art by creating 100 unique renderings of the iconic package for display in a gallery show and a traveling exhibition that went around the world.
“I'm known for acrylic paintings,” he explains. “I generally like to paint on canvas, wood or paper. But with this project, I worked in silkscreen, spraypaint and acrylic paint and then utilized the process Andy Warhol made famous, of screening many times and repeating.”
Incorporating his inimitable “energy shards” – sharp markings that illustrate movement and excitement – his paintings reinterpret the glass bottle’s ridges with a perspective that reflects Morris’ memories of and love for Coca-Cola. He also experiments with the color, shape and size of the bottle.
“When I think of Coca-Cola, I think of energy,” he says. “It has a kind of spark to it.”
By embracing everyday objects with his unique vision, Morris transforms the familiar so that audiences pause to see that which they already know in a different and uplifting way. He reveals the symbolic status of the objects he paints.
Looking around his home at his own work hanging on the walls, Morris feels lucky that he can see his family enjoying his creations. “Art brings about a special feeling and brightens up our life,” he says. But beyond his wife and daughters, Morris is grateful that his work impacts those he’s never met.
“My message is universal,” he concludes. “It's about positive energy in my art. I feel proud that it has inspired children and adults from all over – no matter what race, religion, or culture.
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