Spotlight: Louis Morel
Louis Morel works across drawing, sculpture, creative writing and games design, “exploring the line between cute, creepy and well-weird”. Louis is an autistic artist who suffers with a chronic pain condition and severe sensory processing issues. This means he is extremely sensitive to sounds and smells in particular, making it very difficult for him to leave the house. He is currently housebound and over the years, making art has been a way for him to process trauma and find meaningful ways of interacting with the world.
We were thrilled when the opportunity came about earlier this autumn to talk to Louis about his work over the phone from his home in Wandsworth.
Wandsworth Art: So how did you get into making art?
Louis Morel: I had a breakdown in which I ended up refusing to talk, refusing to eat, refusing to do anything. It started because I’m incredibly sensitive to noise, sound and touch, and can’t really go outside. When I was forced to go outside and do stuff, the pain became so extreme that it eventually gave me fibromyalgia; a chronic pain condition which is triggered by intense pain and trauma over a very long period of time.
After that, I’d basically completely given up on every piece of life entirely. I didn’t think I’d be able to achieve anything apart from basically sit in my room.
One day, on a random whim, I just scribbled something on my computer, and my Mum said “oh, that’s really nice, I really like that.” And I really like that I can make her happy, so I started to draw some more, which was amazing because I was a person who never thought they’d be able to do anything with their life. To be able to do the smallest thing and it actually have a positive impact, even if it’s a tiny, is amazing. So I just kept drawing and doing my art stuff, and that’s why I’m here now.
Eventually I stumbled across this weird Internet webcomic called Homestuck. It’s pretty bizarre, but it’s absolutely colossal and has a ton of artwork and writing in it. The creator managed to achieve so much with his art, so I was really inspired by him.
WA: What are the creative projects you’re currently working on?
LM: I’ve been working on making weird models and monsters, because I love monsters. I built this very large head and neck of this creature, and I built a torso with legs using old scrap wood. I wanted to put them on top of each other, which I didn’t think would work, but I attached some random wooden sticks and a pencil and it somehow balanced!
I also love video games, and recently I made one called Be You 2, which is a visual novel. It got over 11,000 downloads on Steam (which is like the biggest platform for getting games online).
WA: Can you tell me a bit more about Be You 2?
LM: So you’re raising a child within the game, and depending on your actions in the first half of the game, it will change how your child acts in the second half of the game. Essentially the father character dies and the child is left alone, and they regress into imaginary worlds. Their actions in that world and how they manifest are based on how you’ve treated them as a child. And then at the very end of the game, you see what they grow up to be. The whole game is about how even when someone’s gone, the profound effect they’ve had on you doesn’t go away.
WA: Your drawings are filled with characters and creatures that are fantastical and sometimes a bit dark. Where do you get your ideas from for these characters?
LM: There’s a few stylistic things I really like; one is mixing creepy with cute. I don’t know why that really speaks to me, but somehow it makes bad things less scary in my mind for some reason. The idea that a really horrific monster could be a nice person, and looks kind of sweet, shows that it’s not all bad.
I loved Pokémon as a child, and I started to love weird monsters through that. And then as I grew up I discovered folklore, which is filled with weird monsters! I researched that endlessly, so I know so many obscure folklore creatures that I love to death.
Through my folklore research I discovered medieval art and depictions of hell and demons, which was so surreal and disturbing. My dad got me a book of this old artist, who drew these really creepy and nightmarish black and white worlds. It was nothing like I’d seen before and I was so intrigued by it.
From there I discovered Zdzisław Beksiński, who is one of my favourite artists of all time. He is so disturbing and grotesque and otherworldly and fascinating. Francis Bacon, H.R. Giger and Beksiński are very interesting. They seem very affected by World War II. For example, Francis Bacon worked as a hospital medic where he treated bomb victims, which probably heavily inspired his artwork.
WA: What materials do you like to use when you make your sculptures?
LM: I use Modroc, which are bandage-type things, soaked in plaster. Everyone says I should try using clay, but you need a kiln, and it’s still very fragile. Modroc sets so quickly and has this really interesting texture to it, you can do so much with it; it’s relatively light, which really helps when you’re building a model and don’t want it to collapse!
Effectively I build a skeleton first, typically out of interestingly shaped cardboard or containers I’ve found, held together with wire, and maybe a little blu tac or play doh. Then I put Modroc over the skeleton, which sets hard, and then I apply acrylic paint.
I really enjoy acrylic paint, because it’s so thick that when you brush it you can see the lines of the brush strokes which can give another weird texture (I like weird textures!)
There’s something about it that makes it feel more alive, because life is messy and filled with detail. Ancient Greek marble sculptures are beautifully made, but they don’t feel alive to me. I think messiness and weird detail helps bring a sculpture to life and make it feel more real.
WA: What would you like your audience to understand when they look at your work?
LM: I want them to feel some sort of joy. Joy is a strange concept because somebody can appreciate, and have a positive experience from, a work, even if a work is not traditionally ‘happy’. There are some very sad films or games that I’ve played that have felt like a very important experience for me, that I would rather have than not. The art of Beksiński, Bacon and Geiger isn’t ‘happy’, but I have still got a lot of joy out of it. I can draw and write, so I want to give people a bit of joy through that.