Pittsburgh pop artist Andy Warhol has a famous quote about what’s “pop,” or iconic of popular culture: “Once you ‘got’ Pop, you could never see a sign the same way again. And once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same way again.” The next generation of Pittsburgh pop, artist Burton Morris, thinks pop.
Morris and his bright and bold paintings rocketed to fame with the television hit Friends: His signature coffee cup with steam plume and black rays radiating a caffeinated jolt of energy caught the public’s eye. His work has been seen around the world: At the 76th Annual Academy Awards, the Paris World Cup Soccer Games, and the 2006 Major League Baseball All Star Game — in Pittsburgh. He has also worked closely with internationally recognized food and beverage brands, such as Absolut Vodka, Perrier, and Heinz.
“I have always been known as an iconic artist. I started out painting icons of popular culture, like my coffee cup on Friends, and I had another big start with Absolut Vodka, in 1992,” Morris says. “They helped to take my look and brand it worldwide.”
Like pop culture itself, Morris is prolific. He is currently working with three different popular food icons in America. Recently, he designed special edition packaging for Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts as part of the Pop-Tarts Pop Art program. He has an exhibition at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. And, he is a judge and spokesman of the Heinz Ketchup Creativity Contest, for which schoolchildren submit Heinz Ketchup artworks, with the winning designs embellishing bottles and ketchup packets during the 2010-2011 school year.
“Working with brands such as Coke or Pop-Tarts just keeps building my brand and my look. My work has universal appeal,” Morris says.
In addition to creating art that many see in their daily life, the artist has three exhibitions lined up through next year in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Singapore. This summer, his work will be part of the Three Rivers Arts Festival’s Art and Technology works that will be displayed. Morris worked with Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center to create new, technology-based art.
“These pieces are helping to inspire a new generation and getting them to think differently,” Morris says. “Over the last 25 years, I’ve been very fortunate to see where my artwork has gone and how it’s touched people in a very positive way.”
“Burton has been very successful at not only using his artwork as a window to reflect on popular culture, but to also help foster creativity and send an optimistic message,” says Morris’s business partner Alan Smith.
In the meantime, the artist is a veritable factory of output, just like his own hero, Andy Warhol. “I never met Andy Warhol, unfortunately, but he opened doors for me. He was a fellow Pittsburgher, the quintessential pop artist, and he’s one of the main founders of the pop movement, so I really owe a lot to him,” Morris says. “He made a Brillo Box art, and now I paint coffee cups. People accept the work that I do as fine art because of Andy Warhol.”