As June and Pride celebrations across the world begin to wind down, many in the LGBTQ+ community are left with sharply contrasting feelings. There’s the joy of celebration and coming together – especially since many Pride festivities were canceled for the past two years due to the pandemic – and the brutal reality: the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade on June 24, which will have an outsized impact on the LGBTQ+ community and may open the door to future rulings targeting their rights.
Couple these realities with economic and climate concerns, and the future can feel bleak sometimes, even for the most resilient of spirits.
However, one person bringing vibrancy and playfulness to the harshness of the world is Theo Morrow. (He’s even reimagined brutalist architecture with vivid colors.) This D.C.-based freelance artist and designer combines his experience in architectural and graphic design to support the sustainable architecture industry.
Theo releases art collections through Morrowland Studio, a transdisciplinary world-building project reflecting our relationships with the built and natural environment. We recently tapped him to illustrate our post featuring the stories of 6 LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs.
We caught up with Theo over Zoom to talk about his art and experience. He spoke energetically, and it was quickly clear that his playful, neo-psychedelic approach to art and design matched his approach to life. In our conversation, he shared how networking and getting involved in the community has opened doors to new opportunities, how he overcomes creative blocks to create authentically, and how he seeks to inspire joy and positivity in others.
Your work is so bright and otherworldly. What inspired you to become an artist and designer?
I've been drawn to art my whole life. Whether it was creating with Legos, drawing things, or painting later in high school – there’s always been something I wanted to express. I was trying to figure out what to study in college, and I was really drawn to architecture because it's a balance of free creativity, logic, and a unique way of seeing the world.
I studied architecture at Ohio State University's Knowlton School of Architecture. They have an incredible, multifaceted program that allowed me to explore art through so many mediums – models, drawings, and digital renderings. It gave me an incredible toolset to work with.
After graduating, I wanted to dive deeper into my creativity and explore other mediums. I went back into painting and ended up coming to this aesthetic built upon the intersection of multiple mediums in conversation with each other. I don't know – the creative bug is still just with me and I gotta keep creating.
Tell me about Morrowland and some of your influences?
Morrowland is a project I started when I needed a creative outlet. It looks different every time, so it's hard to define exact inspirations or references. I have so many artists that inspire me, though.
I love James Turrell, Georgia O'Keeffe, any desert transcendentalist or modernist painting, and so many architects. But really, the inspiration for my work comes from observing the natural world and the built environment. My art in Morrowland is processing those observations and trying to present them through the filter of my mind.
What have been some of your biggest challenges in making art and design your career?
There’s been a lot of different challenges. At the start of every chapter, there was a certain anxiety about what I wanted to be creating. Just having so many ideas and not having the experience to know how to get all of them out of my head by creating work freely.
You can do anything, but you can't do everything. You can’t let that fact be a barrier to beginning the process of creation and discovery. Getting out of analysis paralysis and into a space of discovering through creating was very empowering. It helped my career, personal development, and life in general.
Another struggle over the past couple of years is explaining to others what I'm about, especially when working with so many mediums and subjects. But again, I don’t want to let that attachment to perfectly articulating everything hold me back from creating.
It’s important to get away from the anxiety of how people will see what you're making because you can't fully control how people see things anyway. If you're so focused on how others will see your work, it takes you away from your heart, and you're unable to express what's really deep within yourself.
What are habits or things you’ve done that have helped you achieve more in your career?
The biggest thing is getting out and meeting people – that’s been huge. Before, I was trying to do everything myself. Opening yourself up to mentors, friends, and people whose paths you admire opens doors. Finding people who resonate with your work and building relationships with them can often lead to incredible collaborations.
Is there a particular project you’ve worked on recently that stands out to you?
I’ve been doing graphic design for a queer dance party in DC called Flower Factory. We work to channel their brand and the energy they want to bring forward. Every month, I create a flier, and I love it more and more each time. I made a poster for a Pride party they're throwing this Sunday – and I haven’t had time to process it, but it just channeled my artistic vibe in a really fresh way.
Also, when I first moved to DC in 2019, I was confronted by a lot of brutalist architecture, which can be beautiful, complicated – and a little ugly, too. I started a series of making colorful edits of brutalism, which is something I continued doing over the past three years.
Now I'm getting into a space where the artwork is getting out into the world. I created a traffic control box art wrap, which took some of the city's brutalist architecture and made it colorful and playful – it's like the ultimate reimagining of something.
That's a body of work that continues to grow, and I am excited about it. It's wild starting a project, making edits on my phone, and now making massive artwork with it. It's a full-circle moment that keeps looping in on itself – and I hope the radius gets bigger and bigger. If I could paint a brutalist building, I’d do it, even though I think it would make a lot of people mad.
You had a hilarious Instagram post poking fun at some of the rainbow capitalism that comes with Pride. What do you think are more meaningful ways to support the LGBTQ+ community?
From the basics, supporting and paying queer artists for their work and donating profits to organizations making positive changes. Because it’s incredible to show your support visually through a logo or your ads and let the community feel seen and represented. However, getting to people who are making real, tangible changes is what makes it meaningful.
I'm not an expert on implementing a quality Pride campaign. Fran Tirado is a creative writer who gives great advice on giving back and making a responsible campaign. I want to add that it's complex to make the queer community feel seen in your representation because it's such a broad range of people. But if a campaign can encapsulate that and work with queer people to make them feel seen – that's gold right there.
What’s something you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
There are so many. One of the main ones is to write your ideas down – don't let them just exist in your head. It's okay if you'll never realize them but just getting them on paper is the first step toward mobilizing your creativity.
The other thing would be just to keep creating. If you can create a little bit every day, that's amazing. If you don't have the energy for it, take a break. But get it out in the world and collaborate with others who maybe are a step ahead of you – or perhaps a step behind you too. Work together because you'll discover more about yourself working with other people than you could if you just do twice as much on your own time.
What are some of your goals as an artist and designer?
I'm always trying to impress myself with my work and create things on a bigger scale. Especially coming from a background in architecture, I want to be able to create huge things that immerse someone in the art. And if I can give people permission to be more playful and reframe how they experience everyday life, that would be really powerful.
Also, I’d like to start selling prints, which might seem like a small move. But I've spent these last few years making originals, so I'm trying to figure out how to get more of my art to the world.
So those are big goals, but I also want to continue to find collaborators – not just companies and clients, but other creators who have something to say. I want to continue to be open and playful with everything I'm creating – whether small or massive.