Woman-Made, Nature-Inspired: Lyric Morris-Latchaw

In honor of Women’s History Month, Great Parks is celebrating eight local woman artists who find creative inspiration from the natural world around them.

Meet Lyric Morris-Latchaw

"Grass Transformed," by Lyric Morris-Latchaw
“Grass Transformed,” by Lyric Morris-Latchaw (provided)

Lyric Morris-Latchaw is a painter, community gardener and advocate for local food security and accessibility. Her paintings depict whimsical imaginings of flowers and plants in surprising colors. She finds inspiration in nature walks, vintage garden magazines, and growing her own food.

The views and opinions expressed in the interview are those of the artist and do not represent the views or positions of Great Parks.

Great Parks: What in life brought you to painting?

Lyric Morris-Latchaw: I studied art in college, and I moved to Cincinnati. I was mostly doing ceramics and printmaking and stuff that required a lot of equipment. And when I moved to Cincinnati honestly, I was just very poor. It was hard for me to afford to rent studio spaces to do ceramics or printmaking. So, I wasn’t making much art when I first got here. And that was when I got more into farming. And then I sort of realized I needed to be making art. I was really struggling without it in my life. So, I started painting, mostly because it was something I could do in my little apartment. I call [my paintings] fiercely optimistic. It’s sort of an imagining of plants that I interact with every day but in a state of future flourishing. I’m around a lot of plants in the day to day but I’m not trying to paint them super realistically. I’m kind of playing with them and exaggerating things that I find interesting.

GP: How else do you get inspiration for your artwork?

LM: I go outside a lot. A lot of walks. When I’m on walks, I take a lot of photos and I do sketches from the photos. I really love looking at old books. I have a huge collection of old seed catalogues and vintage garden magazines in my studio, and I really love looking through those. Especially the ones from the 70s. I love the illustrative styles from the 70s and the colors and the shapes. I pull a lot from those for inspiration. I really love trees. Traveling to new places. Trying to understand the ecologies there. How they’re different from where I’m from.

GP: How would you describe your artistic style?

LM: Most of what I’m painting is flowers and leafy shapes. And the color pallet, there are a lot of neutrals and earth tones colors and then these unexpected pops of bright colors. Sometimes I like to think of that as sort of rooting you in the natural world. But it’s also sort of this surreal, imaginative, not-quite-right color pallet. I’ve also really enjoyed starting to paint murals the last several years. That’s been a really fun process. I think it’s cool in the scope of what I’m trying to do with my work. A painting is one thing that can spark someone’s imagination, but it is fun to feel like you’re sort of creating a whole world. It’s really immersive. It’s larger than life.

GP: How did you get into gardening and farming?

LM: I grew up in rural Iowa. Super, super farm country. The heart of industrial agriculture. There, I really had no interest. It was like farm culture, but I didn’t know that many farmers cause the farms are so big so there’s really only 2 farmers per county. Kinda crazy. So, I had this idea of what farming and agriculture was. And then in college I started to get really interested in environmentalism. I really loved being outdoors. I started learning about the climate crisis really for the first time. Just after college, my partner and I moved to Cincinnati. A friend told us about this community in Norwood where there were these people who were doing a bunch of urban farming running a little pay-as-you-can pizza restaurant, Moriah Pie. It was so special. We were in a stage of our lives where we were very transitional, didn’t really know what we were doing. We were like, “Let’s just go do that!” We moved to Norwood and moved into this big community house with a bunch of people. We started volunteering in the garden and volunteering at the restaurant. Eventually my husband and I quit our jobs to help run it. We had about an acre of urban plots sort of patched together. So that was where I started learning a lot and got sort of obsessed with farming. I farmed on a small scale for several years there. I made a friend there and we decided to start a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that we ran collaboratively. We just saw a gap in accessible produce in the neighborhood that was healthy and nutritious, and we loved the idea of telling this hyper local story. This neighborhood that people might think of as abandoned, all this beautiful food can come from here. At its height we had about 98 members. The food was all sliding scale based on your income. We both grew food and we would come together every week with food from both farms to put these bags together. The CSA still exists, I’m just not part of it anymore.

"Queen Dandelion," by Lyric Morris-Latchaw
“Queen Dandelion,” by Lyric Morris-Latchaw (provided)

GP: Are you still involved in food accessibility work?

LM: Yes. I also run a community garden in Walnut Hills. I work with a lot of people in the neighborhood doing a lot of really important food access work. There’s nowhere walkable to get fresh food. It’s tragic. There’s a lot of people doing really amazing work there. We are part of a network of other community gardens, growing food and trying to find equitable ways to distribute it to people. It’s very grassroots and it’s really special.

GP: How is your concern for the environment and the climate crisis connected to your artwork?

LM: I spend a lot of time thinking about this. Clearly the climate crisis is very much here. It’s not some future, separate, distant thing. It’s affecting our lives. In Cincinnati, being a farmer, the last several years of growing food has been really difficult because the winters have been so mild the pest populations have really changed. It’s not getting cold enough to kill off things that usually get killed off. And same with fungal issues. So, the growing practices in this area have to really shift and change because we’re facing all these new issues because the whole climatic pattern is changing. To list my fears about climate change … it’s so much. Rising sea levels, habitat loss. You know, there’s endless things. When I first started getting interested in this stuff, like a lot of people, I was like “Oh, I’m gonna be a vegetarian, I’m gonna recycle and I’m gonna compost. I’m gonna do all these things.” Then after several years I started to get really depressed and defeated. Like why does it matter? When you look at the … the …

GP: The scale!

LM: Yeah, the scale of what you’re dealing with, it’s really a drop in the ocean. Especially when you are comparing it to huge fossil fuel companies that are contributing to these giant proportions of emissions, it starts to feel like it doesn’t matter if I recycle this bag or whatever. So, I got really jaded for a while. And then I sort of came back around. I really believe at this point that the only way make significant change in the climate crisis is through totally changing the way that we think of ourselves as relating to the natural world. Rather than thinking of nature, and then thinking what can I do to save nature? It’s shifting into thinking of yourself as a part of nature and in relationship with everything. When you start thinking of yourself in relationship with the timber used to build your house and the rising river next to you and sort of think of yourself as one being with all of those things, I feel like that’s the heart change that our culture needs to make to combat the climate crisis. Sort of bigger, societal level, structure things that I don’t think will change as long as capitalistic forces are against it.

So, in response to the climate crisis, I believe really strongly in hope and that there’s a way to be optimistic and hopeful and imaginative in a way that’s not just denying the current reality, not sugar-coating things. But through imagining new futures, we can kind of shape our inner world and that comes out in the outer world in the way we interact with plants and our environment. That’s sort of at the core of what I see my work being about: imagining a future, flourishing way for humans and plants together.

GP: What are some examples of how we might begin to re-conceptualize our relationship with nature?

LM: I just had a show where I painted a bunch of portraits of plants that we would call invasive species and sort of started to try to think about all these plants. I’m not saying that we should just let invasive plants go and do their thing. But just having people think, okay, all these plants come from somewhere and have a place and have a home. Rather than demonizing them and calling them bad, we can understand where and why they thrive. Are they here because we cleared this area, super compacted the soil with construction equipment and this opportunistic plant is just trying to do its thing. I think sometimes when we talk about invasive plants, we sort of remove the human element. Like, what role do we have in why these [plants] are here? It’s not that there are just “bad plants” or “good plants” coming in. That art show was so cool because I had all these portraits of dandelions and kudzu and tree of heaven and I had some really amazing conversations with people about that.

I love to talk about dandelions and the story of dandelions. And how they used to be seen as such an important food and medicine source. They were one of the first plants brought over. Literally they were brought to the Americas on the Mayflower because they were seen as so important. They spread so well here and so vigorously that there was an intentional campaign to sort of pitch them as a poor man’s food because the market couldn’t … they couldn’t be sold to anyone because they were everywhere at that point. And so they were demonized and talked down on as this peasant food because it was everywhere. And over time, now most people don’t even know you can eat a dandelion, don’t know that they have really incredible medicinal value, and in most of the world are seen as this really sacred, powerful plant. We sort of see them as the ultimate weed. I think there is a lot of power in reclaiming those relationships which I think you only learn in community and connection to the land. Being in parks and walking and surrounding yourself with people who hold some of that knowledge and can reteach it. I think those are some of those resilient systems that have power to get us through the climate crisis. And I think that specifically a lot of that knowledge came to the Americas with people of color and has been very intentionally removed from them through these centuries of oppressive law and social practices that have forced people into urban areas and into ways of life that are more about survival than about being able to pursue things like connection to the natural world.

Lyric Morris-Latchaw is one of the local artists whose artwork will be on display at Instinct: Woman-Made, Nature-Inspired, a nature-themed art show happening March 31 and April 1, 2023 at Fernbank Park.

Megan Hague
Nature Interpreter, Miami Whitewater Forest