Renate Morales is a force in the Canadian and global art world. Her work spans mediums, countries, and classification. Morales was born in Mexico City and arrived in Canada many years ago when her family immigrated to the Laurentides. She now shares her time – both living and working – between Montreal and Mexico City.

By Aaron Cunningham

Montreal is a melting pot of cultures that constantly inspire me,” Morales shares what it’s like to live as an artist here. “It has very cool movements, like what the guys from Moonshine are doing. Plus, some of my best friends live here, and they are all talented artists that nurture my creativity as well.”

Anyone new to Morales’ work will quickly become aware that she is prolific in many different creative mediums. She began her career as a painter, showing her work at age 18 in Mexico City, Montreal, and Toronto. She then decided “fashion would be a wiser outlet” for her vision. Driven by a love of music and a realization she would never herself become a musician, she used fashion as a “modus-vivendi and also an eventual door to collaborate on more things with interesting musicians.”

It has almost become a right of passage for Montreal’s emerging indie and synthpop artists to be costumed by Morales. She has designed outfits and costumes for Grimes, Allie X, Yelle, and Arcade Fire. She has also worked with directors Denis Villeneuve, Pedro Pires, Anton Corbijn, Vincent Morisset, and Spike Jonze.

More recently, she has moved towards sculpture, embracing her love of ceramic and combining it with other materials. “Everything is starting to melt together. They all have become tools instead of an obstruction. I started adding metal, glass, and textile to my ceramic compositions; I personally find it all so interesting. I’ve been learning so much from other experienced artisans who have supported me through my practice, and learning from their medium has also influenced my drawing and painting work,” Morales remarked how the various mediums she works with shape the way in which she creates.

Earlier this year, at the 58th Venice Biennale, Morales presented Invasor, the culmination of a two-year residency at the Phi Centre in Montreal. Invasor consisted of 70 used tires painted in glossy candy shades with massive self-portraits printed on distressed textiles to create a dystopian universe of opposites. Her composite figures of assembled media challenged the viewers’ perception of texture, touch, solace, and violence.

“I have been working and/or collaborating with the Phi Centre and its team for about 10 years. When the Phi Centre opened, I was the first person to be invited for a Carte Blanche (others followed), and we all came up with the eight-day week, to show the versatility of the building and also opened the Phi store for the first time. I guess the same happened with this 2019 Phi initiative, when Phoebe had the idea of doing a show during La Biennale di Venezia. We all have evolved with our work over the years; it was a special culmination,” Morales told DTK of her experience working with Montreal’s Phi Centre.

Phi’s show at the Venice Biennale also showcased Marina Abramovic’s Rising, which addresses climate change by transporting viewers. The work completely immerses the viewer in a VR experience and brings them face-to-face with rising sea levels. Morales told us, “she has remained a strong and important voice during her whole career. Phoebe Greenberg, the curator of the residency, felt like our work could coexist in the same exhibition. Phoebe always has wild ideas, and I was honoured about the experience.”

Moving forward, Morales says she has “a lot of painting work to finish and will work on installations in Montreal for two different exhibits.” She also plans on “going back to Mexico to continue work on sculpture and other mediums.” Morales tells us she is perpetually “into collaborating with my music friends; a couple of them have projects on the way. I’m always open to ideas and discussion. I love collaborating with great people, even on clothing or accessories.”

One of her life dreams “is to have cultural – art/work – exchanges between Canadian and Mexican artists and artisans. We have a lot to exchange and to gain from each [other].” She also stated that to see Canada “continuing to develop exchanges with Mexico (especially during Canadian winters) could be very enriching to our relationships in general.” One can see Morales’ desire to build cultural exchange reflected in her work, which merges materials and mediums to build something larger than the sum of its parts.

Written on: December 5, 2019