An arts internship that goes deeper than art

Jeriyah Morris '22 (left) and MCLA Artist Lab Resident Joshua AM Ross (right)

When artist Joshua AM Ross was interviewing MCLA students for the apprenticeship position that complemented his Fall 2021 MCLA Artist Lab Residency, he and Jeriyah Morris ’22 clicked right away.

Since then, the two have stayed in touch. “With no exaggeration, working with Joshua in the gallery was a life-changing experience for me,” said Morris. “Joshua is not only my mentor but my friend that showed me what it's like living as a young independent artist.”

Students as apprentices

Student apprentices support MCLA’s artists in residence while they’re on campus to create and share work, and in some cases, teach courses at MCLA. MCLA Arts and Culture, the College’s newly expanded arts programming arm, manages multiple residency opportunities, some invited, some application-based. Other artists in residence at MCLA have included Genevieve Gaignard, Nathaniel Donnett, who was recently named a Guggenheim Fellow, and Conrad Egyir, whose solo exhibition will open at MCLA Gallery 51 in June.

Morris helped Ross prepare work for a solo exhibition, “Come Inside: Works by Joshua AM Ross,” which involved a lot of precise paper-cutting. “It was a learning experience,” said Ross. “It’s similar to a classroom because you have to set a tone for your expectations in the studio and what the workflow will look like. No one is ever involved in my practice. It’s rare I’m able to be that close to someone when I work.”

Ross is a multidisciplinary artist; the work he created for this exhibition is a representation of his continued search to bring the world, as he sees it, to life. In large- and small-scale colored pencil drawings, he questions weight and opacity, central components of his practice, creating a place to better discuss Blackness or Darkness, history, space and contexts, versus the conventional ways and spaces.

During studio hours, Morris learned from Ross’s creative practice—Ross is focused, precise, and intentional about his work and its elements. “There were a lot of moving parts,” Ross said. “Jeriyah was adaptable to those moving parts. I really respect and admire Jeriyah because he would communicate what feels good, what he is learning, and how he is responding to things, and that really helped orient me.”

“I appreciate the fact Joshua is a perfectionist, and I loved challenging myself with something that I’ve completely never touched before and eventually getting to a point where I was able to cut paper, show it to him, and he wouldn't have to say a word about it,” Morris said. “I never told him but I high key was always proud to show him whenever I’d cut a perfect piece.”

Beyond the Studio

The two artists spent a lot of time in and out of the studio together—Morris introduced Ross to life in the Berkshires, and they looked at lots of art together at local museums and taking field trips to see work on view at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

“Very quickly, me and Jeriyah understood how valuable it was for him to just be around,” Ross said. “It was important to me to have it be more than a work relationship. I wanted to be sure we had time to have conversations about the things that were important to him.”

To Morris, the experience was transformative. “We have a lot of the same values as artists, and that made it easy for us to speak the same language from day one,” he said. “I appreciated the things he was showing me so much. He connected me to a different side of life as an adult.

“He held me accountable while showing me how to function in my reality as a young artist. He opened me up to more visual arts, and connected me with other artists from different cities,” Morris said. “Everything was so brand new to me, and it felt good to know that I could go to a space where I could be creative and be supported by a friend creatively as well. I’ve always done all of my creative work by myself, this was the first time I ever got to personally help someone else with their creative work, and also my first time working on my craft with someone else.”