Morag Myerscough’s work is bright, bold, unapologetic and, above all, fun; it is at its very best when installed in brutalist concrete surrounds. Moments of pure joy in stark relief against the impenetrable and permanent grey. Her striking multidimensional graphic artworks are calibrated to bring people together and create a sense of shared belonging and community.
Myerscough’s personal mantra, “Make those who are near happy and those who are far will come,” testifies as much. A traditional Chinese saying, it was adopted as the title of her most recent installation, which was held in Hong Kong in December 2019, and marked the artist’s first time to incorporate sound directly.
Using laughter, her partner Luke Morgan’s psychobilly music, and a song performed by Myerscough and her twelve-year-old niece, the installation, called “Make Those Who Are Near Happy”, represents the artist-designer’s debut foray into making noise-to-order – but soundscapes have always been crucial to her work’s context.
A born and bred Londoner, Myerscough can’t abide the quiet. Feeding off the energy of cities and the people in them, her pieces sit most comfortably in a cocoon of cacophony. They are part of – although not imposed upon – their surroundings, which are almost always public places.
In bright colours and graphic shapes, they demand attention – a joyful addition to the existing hustle and bustle. Various cafes, city squares and walls, as well as Sheffield Hospital and Battersea Power Station, have all played host to her vibrant designs. And, for Myerscough, they have a lot in common with music: shared energy and the ability to impart it.
Growing up in a very musical family has clearly influenced Myerscough, though she never took up an instrument herself. Her father and uncle were both classical musicians, and their little Holloway house was full of arpeggios and rehearsals.
Myerscough’s childhood was punctuated with regular concerts, and she remains devoted to live music to this day. From the bandstand in Fred Astaire’s Top Hat to spoken word poetry, Myerscough’s interventions build confidently on a space’s existing history by bringing her own to bear on its story.
Music accompanies Myerscough’s creative process, and sound – whether rockabilly or talk show, television or radio – partners her working hours. The counterintuitive power of something distracting to make one concentrate certainly resonates with Myerscough, who believes what she learned when studying at the Royal College: design engages every part of the brain.
Myerscough’s time in formal education saw her apply the design skills she was honing to large-scale and narrative-driven projects – opera, set design and props. That early work set the scene for her defining style but now, the where and why come first.
While some projects still include set design and stages for musicians at festivals, Myerscough’s work concerns itself mostly with found places rather than birthing new ones, by threading her work into their existing fabric and augmenting it.
Her studio’s “Swing It!” project in Wakefield, for instance, layered an installation into a city setting – an orangery, open to the public and next to a locally listed building.
Passersby were encouraged to dive in and interact with the artwork’s moving parts, designed to recall early memories of play and prompt its rekindling in individuals who might not have accessed that easy joy since childhood. The “Swing It!” structure created its own phonic landscape in time with the users’ movements and the surrounding hubbub.
Bright colour in shared spaces has long been considered a divisive topic, but it only fuels Myerscough’s fire, especially when it comes to injecting it. It’s in the richness of a full experience, from sight to sound and touch to feeling, that a public installation graduates to sincere success. For her Hong Kong opening, Myerscough’s mantra has perhaps never felt so pertinent – and not only because it’s the title of her installation there.
Adding her own soundtrack to the city’s comings and goings, on the other side of the world from her native London, the power of noise as intellectual and emotional prompt will join that of visual and kinaesthetic intervention, which have defined her practice and process thus far.
For the first time, sound plays the same role as colour and shape in Myerscough’s work – no longer merely incidental, but intentional. In “Make Those Who Are Near Happy”, musical riffs and recorded laughter are deliberate springboards, active participants in their setting’s existent soundscape.
Meanwhile, colourful pinwheels will move, with the wind and counting time – sound and structure in harmony. Phonic flowers, pulsing towards the sun.