Sunday, December 1, 2013

Spotlight on Painter Scott Murphy’s New Show: Broken Threads. Lost Causes.

In 2006 I stopped to pick up my daughter from her friend’s house in Proctor one chilly winter eve. I was invited in to stay warm while she gathered her things. On the walls were paintings with unusual, even comical, juxtapositions, original works that grabbed both eye and imagination, many works that I would later see hanging on walls at Lizzard’s Gallery and the Zeitgeist Cafe in Duluth. This was how I first became a fan of the work of Scott Murphy.

Murphy’s paintings are serious, but with a humorous edge. He says “you don’t have to punch people in the head to get your point across.” Though making art has been important to Murphy he took care of his family first. “I’m not quitting my day job.”

Murphy’s paintings can currently be seen at the Duluth Art Institute from mid-November to mid-January in the Morrison Gallery of the Duluth Art Institute. The opening reception will be this coming Thursday, December 5 from 5-7 p.m.

EN: You were once a billboard painter, yes? What kind of training did you have for that? What was your path from art student to billboards?

Scott Murphy: I did a five year apprenticeship as a billboard painter and early on got a BFA in art from UMD. I work for a union painting contractor. The work varies from mural painting to nasty industrial. I am always hunting for ideas that may lead to a painting. It would be great to take a pill like in the movie ‘Limitless’ and then let the painting rip.

EN: Can you list some of the public art you’ve done that people can see right now?

SM: There are a couple of public works in Duluth. One is at the library downtown and the other is in the rotunda at the Depot. I also did a small project for the MN Calumet Library, one for the Depot in Baudette, MN and one that has been partially destroyed in St. Paul at Fairview & University. Some samples of my work, ranging from public murals, commercial projects and straight up painting can be found on

EN: Tell us a little bit about the show currently on display at the DAI?

SM: I worked on this show for a year. It was a new direction. I had been doing commission work for a while. Doing a show of my own work was a trial balloon to see if I could do work that I’d be excited about again. I wasn’t happy with what I had been doing. The results [of this new step] were mixed. Some pieces I like, which was a big deal because I hadn’t come up with anything I was really happy with for a long time.

I especially like the U118.

EN: Why is this particular one so special to you?

SM: I was painting in the Dakotas, standing in line with 300 guys waiting for work. It was humbling. I wanted to put this line of people in the picture. The painting is aimed at people who have it going fine. It shows the stratification [in society.] The little girl is oblivious to what’s going on. The U118 is a World War I U-Boat that washed up on the shore in Hastings, England.

EN: The title of your show is intriguing: Broken Threads. Lost Causes.

SM: The title came from my youngest daughter who, upon looking at the paintings I’d created for this show, said there was no common theme, no common thread. Hence the first part, broken threads. I included a few that felt like they were lost causes.

EN: Say something about the painting titled Flag.

SM: Someone asked what the deal was with the bear wearing a Japanese flag on his head. It’s a metaphor for the WW2 Japanese war machine, an image that straddles to our modern times.

EN: What about the giraffes. In one painting there’s a giraffe in front of an iron ore mine pit.

SM: Something about mines haunted me. The giraffe [for me] conveys elements of family.

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