Morgan O'Hara in her studio. Courtesy of

Morgan O'Hara. Image courtesy of 

Invisible Habitat: Could you tell us a brief journey of your life?

Morgan O'Hara:

I was born in 1941 in Los Angeles, California, and my family moved many times. By the time I left home, we had lived in thirty-five different houses. My parents never explained why. During that time, children rarely had conversations with their parents. In my family, children were told what to do. When I was seven, my father changed jobs, and we moved to the Nishinomiya Province in Japan, where we lived until I was fourteen. This was the period of reconstruction after the second World War. 

These years were difficult for the Japanese but not so for foreigners like us. Growing up near Kobe was unusual and fascinating. It was also safe.As a child I could go anywhere and was able to explore. I had to ride eighteen miles on the train to get to school, and many times I would get off the train instead of going to school and wander around, exploring the mountains and small villages. I had many private adventures. In some way, having a private adventure embodies my idea of home. When I am exploring something new that I don’t understand and nobody interferes—that is home. 

My family was Catholic and controlling, and I hated all of their attempts to control me. On the outside, I was mostly obedient to avoid trouble, but on the inside, I was not. My inner life was my safe space. During my teenage years, I was radically threatened by the outside, but I managed to keep it intact. This was important then, and it still is. My feeling of home is having the time to create and think freely without plans or restrictions. 

When I was fourteen, my family moved back to California, and a terrible chapter began for all of us. My father was an alcoholic, and he became violent. This was hidden when we were in Japan, but it erupted when we returned to the United States. I was the eldest of seven and was the first to be attacked. I left home before I finished high school to live in the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) so I could get away from the violence at home.

Japan as home was important to me for several reasons. I lived there before the terrible violence took hold of my family. It was a clear period when I lived without threats or fear. The twenty years of hell came later and when they did, my art practice helped me survive. With art, I had something to focus on other than the violence at home. In Japan, we took classes in Shodō and Ikebana along with the other foreigners, and you can see that early influence in my drawing and thinking. I like to work with ink. Additionally, the strong use of black and white demonstrates a Japanese influence. 

I never thought of being an artist; I made art as a psychological necessity. When I was in high school, I became involved in art classes and began my practice of art. 

My art, the practice of doing it and not necessarily the finished work, has always been my home. The working process has always calmed me. My practice is like a companion, and I am grateful for this. Many people have to go through terrible times and don’t have a way to calm and stabilize themselves. I feel fortunate to have my art practice.

When I was in high school, I skipped other classes to go to the art studio to work. Fifty years later, when I attended my high school reunion in California, my art teacher was present. I asked her what she remembered about me as a high school student. She said it was clear that I had to do art. Additionally, I learned she had purposefully left the art studio unlocked so I could always have access. It was wonderful to thank her for this a half century later.

As stated, I didn’t feel safe at home. I felt safe when I was doing art and pursuing my commitment to art, which has remained strong since I was seventeen. 

Just recently, I was invited to visit Sing-Sing Prison, a big, maximum-security correctional facility in upstate New York, with a group of musicians who teach music to inmates as a type of rehabilitation. I was invited to draw during their music lessons and concert. That experience reminded me of my start in art and its capacity for healing. Becoming an artist was not about a career. When I live with an idea and a process and work with the unknown to see if this idea can be made visible, this embodies a feeling of home for me.

Additionally, I feel very much at home in Italy. I love the beautiful Italian language. The culture is relaxed and playful, and for someone who is serious like me, it is good to be around people who can always make things lighter. The culture is accepting, and there is a basic respect for artists, regardless of the type of work. I lived there for twenty-one years. 

The last place I lived in Italy was in an old farmhouse. I loved living in the 400-year-old rooms. The physical place felt like home for a quite a while. It was simple. There wasn’t anyone to talk to except the farmer, his workers, and the chickens, ducks, and horses. I found living daily life there satisfying. If I have the opportunity to go back to live in Italy, I will do so. 

I am now seventy-eight, and I am thinking more about what I will need when I am old. I need to talk to interesting people, do my art, and see things that are beautiful, such as architecture, nature, and friendly people. I find New York quite aggressive, and although I have learned to live here, I don’t enjoy it the way I enjoyed life in Italy. I do not feel truly at home in New York, except in my studio. When I am in my studio, I am in my own world.