The art of life

‘Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith’, (Steve Jobs).

Nick Morris, an artist's expression: Photo by Nathan Rivalland.

It would be fair to say that plenty of bricks have hit artist and surf guru Nick Morris during his eventful life, however, never has he ever lost his creative drive and passion for art.

It all started with a farm scene. At the age of six, Morris put together an illustration of a farm landscape with animals and a tractor in his school arts class. He realised art was his calling.

“I remember all these kids running up to me and just being in shock of what I had drawn and I thought, I don’t know how I do it, but I love it and I know I want to do it for the rest of my life,” Morris said.

The passion started to take shape thereafter, but it wasn’t long before that first brick would be thrown his way.

It was during his secondary schooling at St Patrick’s College in Ballarat when a teacher uttered 12 words that nested themselves in the head of Morris for many years to come.

“Don’t ever bother being an artist, you’ll never make a living from it,” the teacher told him.

Being young and impressionistic, he took it on board, but knew he had to get away from an environment that was going to stifle him and not let his creative talents come to the fore.

A switch to a TAFE Arts degree and a stint at university, saw Morris and fellow graphic designer Dave Bowers debut the futuristic new surf brand Umgawa in 1990, as they headed into their mid-20s.

“Umgawa was a lot of fun, we’d drink beers, play records, surf like mad men and design the weirdest and most wacky things,” Morris said.

“In our first year we had over $860,000 worth of orders which was just ridiculous, and in essence it was the beginning of the end. We got too big, too quick,” Morris said.

Brick two, was approaching.

It was a brisk Sunday morning at 7am in the summer of 1994 when Morris returned home from a night out to be confronted by a sheriff at his front door. A damaging deal made with a trading partner in Melbourne would see his company fall into significant financial debt. Inevitably, the business spiralled out of control, leading to the death of the label.

After a re-set, Morris worked as a designer with Quiksilver, though quickly moved onto freelance work in the latter part of the 1990s.

After seeing a life coach in the early 2000s, Nick turned his attention to screen-printing. With a new vision, his work was flying, but it wasn’t for long — the global financial crisis, and stores and buyers going bankrupt, spelt danger for his career once again.

Brick three would be the most devastating, almost ending his professional career.

With his income source slowly trickling off into an abyss, and a wife and three kids to support, Morris was in a world of pain. His 2015 taxable income was very low, and he became burnt out with the industry and his style of work.

“I couldn’t even buy a loaf of bread. I was putting $2.70 worth of petrol in my car, purely because I couldn’t afford anything more,” he said.

It was no easier for his wife Julie Mandersloot, who conceded what a tough period it was.

“Being his wife, it was so hard to watch his creativity and see no financial reward during this time. The weight of supporting a family during these struggles was certainly not easy without a reliable source of income,” she said.

The same week in 2015 that he was speaking to a real estate agent about putting his family home going on the market, his work ethic and passion landed him a full-time graphic design job at Cotton On. A design position at Patagonia followed.

No matter how many bricks had been thrown at him, Morris hadn’t given up.

In 2020, he has gone full circle. He’s on JobKeeper now but back doing what he loves, painting.  

“I need art for my own sanity, to be here and enjoy life,” he said.






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