I’m Curious Because I’m Curious

My grandmother used to tell me that when I was little, they lived right on the bay, and I used to spend a month with them every summer. She told me “when you were very little, you would terrify us, because whenever you first got here you would just run and you would go as far as you could out to the water. We couldn’t stop you, you would swim as far as you could swim and then finally you would come back in your little polkadot swimsuit.”

She would always ask me why I did that, and I used to tell her that I just wanted to know that I could. I wanted to know where that barrier was…

And I want my paintings to capture that spirit.  I think I’m always trying different ways to see if I can make people curious. 

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I like to use materials in such a way as you don’t know quite how they were made. I want the materials to be a little bit… like they just happened. So maybe that’s part of it, I want people to experience that sense of “where is this, how did this happen, how did that mark get made?”

With a laugh as vibrant as her scarlet red hair, Erin Murphy is 24-year-old painter based in Nashville, Tennessee. Raised in the South, art-schooled in New England, her sculptures and paintings have a depth and soul that is mirrored in her persona: warm and inviting, but full of challenge and an unexpected somber truth.

I use a lot of colour layering, and I think it’s part of the mystery of painting, I think with one layer it’s pretty straightforward what happened, but once you get a little deeper, and it has a lot of history, then it becomes harder to discern what came first and what came after. I want people to be able to dig through them a little bit.

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Erin graduated from Art School in December 2011, and was given a short residency in New York, and recently has again become a full time painter. But she hasn’t always had that privilege, and still struggles to make a living from her work.

It’s always been easier for me to promote other people than myself. That’s still something that I’m navigating. Because even when I do start negotiating successfully, then I just feel kinda bad about it. Like, we shouldn’t be talking about these things! 

After my residency, the school that I went to offered me a full time office job, with benefits, doing fundraising for art, so I went back to Baltimore and became the annual fund coordinator for almost two years… which was eye opening!

I was so lucky to have that job, because it was really important me to be able to support myself financially – going home was not an option. But I had no idea what to do with a painting degree! Like… I can waitress! 

I think being in fundraising took me from not being able to talk about money at all. It was just helpful to know how those things work. But I just realised that I wanted to work in other spaces, I wanted to work with other people who didn’t all have the same degree from the same college.

Like when I was working at the sculpture park in New York we had people come with crazy ideas! They’d never been to art school; they were just really passionate about art. 

Then I knew these people who were “career” artists and they just seemed tired… They didn’t have that same fire.

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Having spent what she considered too much time around academia, Erin knew that further studies were not what she wanted to pursue. Instead, she went on an educational pilgrimage of her own.

Travel was something I had wanted to do since I was an exchange student in England. I met these two girls who were travelling from Australia, and they were travelling for a year, they were just backpacking. And it was like everything I never knew I had always needed to be doing. 

So that was in the back of my mind, and then one of my really good friends who lives in London emailed me saying “I’m getting married in two months in Toulouse, and I really want you to be there.” And then I got a phone call, like the same day, that my studio burned down, like actually burned down and everything was gone! 

And I was like well if I don’t have a studio, and I have a lot of money saved… I know I wanna do this… So it was a month, a month between me quitting my job, I bought a backpack, I packed up all my stuff and sold everything I could sell. 

And my friend’s wedding actually got cancelled, so then I was in Europe, with no plan whatsoever, and it just turned out to be amazing!

Then I went to South Africa to do a residency. It was good for me to just be that free… to not have all these things that I was pretending. We fill our lives with all this stuff, all these obligations, and all of that fell away. I tried to make art, but also just see a lot of art.

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Whatever medium we work with, for artists, there is nothing as valuable as being surrounded by new stimuli. Architects, musicians, poets and filmmakers, we all draw on the environment and spaces around us. Erin’s time travelling and seeing art and nature across the continents gave her a new direction for her work.

In Ireland, I got to paint in a cave, which was a dream: a weird dream of mine! I’ve got a documentary on caves, and before I left I was actually making paintings for it. I was making these tar paintings, and then sort of carving light out of them.

And then I started reading this documentary on a caver, and he talked about how caves and darkness and the “deep” places in the world are the last unexplored places on earth. They’re the only places that we can’t really see, like we can’t even really infrared map them to see what’s down there, so there are these guys who are extreme cavers. 

And even though it’s some people’s worst nightmare, it fascinates me that people want to explore those caves. I think people want to explore for the sake of exploring – I think we’re curious because we’re curious

In school we’re given this narrative that people explored because they wanted gold and they wanted wealth. That’s like people who travel for business, but then you have cavers, and they’re like “we just wanna see how deep it goes. It could be one mile, it could be 20 miles, but no-one will know until we risk our lives to swim to the end and discover exactly how many miles.” 

It’s kind of a crazy concept that people would devote their lives to just seeing how far something went, how far they could get, and I think it’s a really beautiful metaphor, for life or for humanness – they just wanted to see. I think it’s kind of a personal narrative for me.

Erin’s studio is a wonderful mess; the tell-tale sign that the artist who dwells within is alive with creativity. Her show “Quoting Nature” just finished in Baltimore, and she is busy preparing and experimenting for a show in Nashville in September.

Under the canvases, pallettes, paintbrushes and frames, I spot Van Gogh’s book of letters…

Van Gogh? Oh he’s just so painfully sincere.  A lot of people don’t realise he was a pastor before he was a painter. He just had too unusual of a personality, and was too revolutionary with his ideas probably. 

He just kept making things, although he was never well received. And now he’s huge, and we look up to him and we realise what a brilliant draftsman he was, but at that time the only person who would buy his work was his brother. 

I’m less talented, but equally driven… that’s what I like to think… with the same dogged spirit.

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Sometimes when I’m not selling work and I’m not showing, and I can’t figure out what to do with what I’ve made, I start to feel like I’m not contributing to society, to other people – like, I must not be making something that other people need, and that makes me feel really frivolous. It makes me feel really selfish, like I’m wasting other people’s time by making those things that are cluttering the world. 

So I think that reading someone like Van Gogh you awaken the tiny voice in the back of your head that says “Maybe they don’t make sense now, but maybe someday people will really appreciate these.” And maybe that’s why I’m so compelled to sit here and make them.

Erin’s works really do contain the mystery and the depth and the quotes of nature that she hopes them to hold. In front of her work, I feel like I have to hold my breath – that at any moment, the deluge of nature’s strength will pour out of the canvas and be unleashed into my being. Her daring, fiery reds, her untameable wild blues, her turbulent winds or her still, still waters. It is at times like these when I long for a house with empty walls to fill.

There is nothing like seeing them in person and being able to read into their layers, but please go and visit her website and take a moment to breathe in their reflectiveness, their questions, their vastness.

www.erinmurphystudio.com

Instagram @erinmurphystudio

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Fort Houston

The soldiers line the fort. 

Their chariots await, their armour on the on stands.

The smiths of wood and metal and glass

Fire forth the strong and straight.

Print the banner, raise the flag.

Within the forge

The artisans 

Belong.

Function finds its form.

Unexampled, never seen before.

They’ve no enemy to fight,

No blood to shed,

No tears to draw.

But to draw forth the tangible from light.

Ten thousand dreams to bring to life.

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Guys taking a break behind Fort Houston

Nashville is a city that is rooted in music. It seems that everyone here is, or used to be, a musician or their parents are musicians or promoters or agents or songwriters…

And just like in LA, where every waiter is an actor with their big break just around the corner, in Nashville every waiter is a songwriter… with their big break just around the corner! So I guess we fit right in…

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Erin Murphy, artist.

But, it is not all about music. There is a growing scene of makers and craftspeople and artists and artisans that give Nashville a beautiful home grown, home made, home designed and taken-home identity.

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Our first day at the Fort, with Nick.

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One of their homes is Fort Houston: a 10,000 square foot old hosiery factory that is a living, breathing, sparking space where things are made. Not made digitally, with pixels, binary or code, like so much of our 21st Century world.

But made with sweat, machines, oil, metal, glass, ink, wood, power tools, sound, light, fire.

Falling into this space, tucked behind the railway line, we willingly lost ourselves in the Fort Houston creative atmosphere. A maze of workshops, where you literally trip over tools and can find anything from fine art to a gear wrench, the fort is alive with the sound of makers.

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Ryan, co-founder of Fort Houston, giving us a brief history of everything

Spending a week around its talented craftsmen, we began to see the secret of Fort Houston’s success. It is not ‘perfect’, it was not meticulously set out with a ten year business plan set in stone. It is an evolving creation itself, with artists and mechanics and smiths coming and going, being given the tools that they need and the inspiration around them in the form of people and space, giving back from within themselves, leaving their thumbprint on the walls and floors, and being challenged to create better.

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Atlas Motorworks custom build

Atlas Motorworks and the motorcycle boys are the welcoming committee that spill out into the parking lot. A collection of their own bikes, along with the bikes of their clients, fills the stands.

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Tyson at Knuckle Up Speed Shop

And as you move through their shops with parts and spanners and spare petrol tanks streamed everywhere, you begin the journey towards the print shop. With their headphones on, keeping their movements flowing and rhythmic, these boys work hard and long and their endless print cycles are almost robotic.

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A Woodworker’s Dream

Then there is the woodshop, with its carpet of sawdust and the metalshop with flying sparks and hot, sunburned smiths.

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Sparks will fly

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Layer on layer at the print shop

And dotted here and there, a jewellery maker, a painter or two, a glass blower, and a puppy.

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The newest member of the team.

It’s not a tourist attraction or and exhibit, although they do show work, but if you are ever passing through Nashville, make sure you visit 500 Houston Street, and say hello from The Travellers Two.

Integral Art with Whitney Ledesma

Apparently when I was two I started drawing little circles on paper, and I could do that for hours and hours… So all of my life I have enjoyed drawing. It was how I passed the time on long car rides and during classes and church services and any of those things…

Whitney Ledesma and I met in Sydney in 2009. I was studying music, she was studying painting. Almost six years later, we met again, on the opposite side of the world, catching up on each others’ journeys as artists, wives and dreamers.

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Whitney in her studio

Whitney, who has just moved to Hampton, Virginia, has known from a young age that she wanted to make art her career.

I had a really wonderful art teacher who pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and also gave me the confidence to believe that art could be a viable future. So I started taking all the art classes I could in high school, and drawing and painting. And I decided that that’s what I loved most, and I didn’t really want to bother with the rest of the subjects! 

It was some time during high school that I really decided, I suppose, to be a painter. It was something that I just enjoyed doing all my life, so I thought ‘if I can do what I love, then that’s ideal’.

Coming from an academically accomplished family (her father worked on his a PhD and her mother has a Masters Degree), Whitney never felt pushed down that path by her family:

 I feel like I’m really privileged because, for one thing, my parents always had the attitude that I was a gift to them from God, and that I wasn’t theirs to own or to live vicariously through.  So, though my dad was a physicist, and my mum more Maths and Psychology, they were very accepting of what each of me and my siblings wanted to do and pursue.

_MG_4281But also, my grandfather was an accomplished artist (my mum’s father) and my grandmother also… but she died when my mom was 24, so I never met her. But I did meet my grandfather, and I got to see his success as an artist, because he had retrospective shows and I got to go to some gallery openings up in Maine when I was a child. So I think that was very inspiring and formative. And I did see that, even in my own lineage, there was the possibility of making a living as an artist.

My mum used to tell me stories from when she was growing up, of when my family really didn’t have much in the bank account that month or week, they would actually go out to eat at restaurants, because my grandfather had bartered paintings for so many meals for his family at a restaurant! So I realised that it wasn’t always as lucrative as it was in his old age. But it took a lot of time to build up as a career.

One of the questions I always get asked as a song writer is “how do you write a song?”, or “what comes first – the melody/lyrics/chord progression?”. I had never heard a painter really explain the process that it takes to create a piece of art, but Whitney shared her own process and the time that she has to invest before she even puts any paint on the canvas.

Usually there’s something that sparks my interest in some way, whether it’s a concept that seems to be just coming up in conversation, or in media, or in my mind regularly, or something that I feel like I have learned and feel that I really want to share. So often, it can be something like a new understanding of scripture or some idea of identity of gender roles, something that I feel relates to the human experience but is also something that I can really deeply relate to. And then I tend to gather a lot of info and try to immerse myself in that idea, and almost do a research stage… if it’s going to be any good! 

So often I would jump into paintings previously, but that didn’t work out well because I hadn’t problem solved at all, so now I’m learning to have a process of sketches, and refine those sketches, and refine the idea so that I can move away from my first impression and more cliché ideas to something more nuanced and honest. And then I just paint it and see where it takes me.

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In the world of instant – photography, downloads, communication and even food – the art of investing time into an idea and allowing it to develop is becoming rarer and rarer. Whitney is an artist that still values, and sees the benefits of, lengthening her artistic process and the preparation time that she invests into her work.

I think with most of the arts, even relationships, it’s very easy today to be a fast consumer, and try to listen to short sound bites, or meet people for ten-minute coffees because you lead an oh-so-busy life. But then you only get a very small glimpse of the reality of something or someone. 

So I think when you’re willing to sit down and spend a couple of hours talking to someone and looking into their eyes, or when you’re willing to read a full novel or develop an art idea over time, and let yourself dwell in it a little bit, and go through the process of sketches and research and ideas, then you come out with a much fuller understanding of what it is you’re doing. You also have this body of skill and of experience that you bring to something that isn’t going to be present in a quick glimpse of something, or something that you snapped quickly or sketched in a moment. 

And even the way that the colours come together and the forms emerge and become more sophisticated… I appreciate the increase in level of nuance and sophistication that can come with years of experience and with development of work intentionally. I think it’s a much richer experience for both the maker and the viewer if both will take the time. 

 Which is partially why I’m personally not as drawn to the primitive styles of artwork. I can appreciate in some ways the really basic abstract, or the “five lines on a page” but I feel like that there’s a lot that can be gained when something is more interpreted and a lot more fully realised and developed.

As we sat eating frozen yoghurt, or drinking coffee, discussed music and life and futures, the thing that I valued most about spending time with Whitney is that she is a deep person. She feels deeply, experiences all forms of art deeply, listens to music intently, analyses creatively, thinks philosophically, dreams purposefully. Even as she shared her opinions on my music, I was surprised on all that she had picked up on – lyrically, musically, vocally.

And I think what Whitney sums up is an artist’s deep soul. Someone who longs to use the gifts they have been given to express their revelations, to inspire others, to offer a connection between souls where words fail.

I think seeing the look on people’s faces, hearing their comments and even knowing the fact that people have bought my paintings because it stirs something in them means a lot to me, because it shows me that there is something there at least; there is some validity to what I do and some hope of it actually making a difference of.

It’s a funny thing trying to live a creative life, and both of you know that of course. I feel that it’s a matter of being grounded in who you are, and that it’s necessary to embrace yourself and embrace your own worth in order to be able to give anything.

That has probably been a big progression for me, and is something that I would want to share with younger artists or emerging artists, be they 15 or 70: Art is an integral part of who you are but that it doesn’t make who you are, doesn’t define who you are. And when you know that you’re connected to your Creator, and that you have meaning and purpose outside of what you do, but that He can speak through you, then I think it’s a really powerful thing. Because it frees you from a lot of the self-doubt that can be associated with art, and a lot of the striving and grasping and frustration… not that there isn’t frustration still! But it’s a much more lively and fun process, or just less inhibited, than if I’m trying to prove myself to the world through art. 

Whitney’s work can be seen at www.facebook.com/WhitneyLedesmaArt

Which street do you live on?

“Which street do you live on?” he asked as we thumbed through his paintings.

We tried to politely and succinctly explain that we don’t live around here, and that actually we don’t really live anywhere right now. The awkward way we told our story seemed to create some kind of kindred spirit between artists… “Well take a look anyway,” he smiled.

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It was a chilly late afternoon and the sun was slowly setting on Greenwich Avenue when we met Kazuya Morimoto; a Japanese painter who spends his days painting the picturesque scenes of Greenwich Village, NYC.

“I always work on site. It’s more fun, more intimate that way… hey, I met you guys right?” As he shows us his work, he tells us about this part of the city; that it used to be full of artists like him, that it has more of a local feel than other parts of the city, but that there’s not many artists like him left.  “People say to me ‘wow, you’re still doing the traditional stuff – that’s’ rare!’”

Kazuya loves this part of New York the most; the routines of the people who often pop up in his paintings, the light, the trees, and the buildings. He paints specific crossings and facades of the streets, adding a radiance and brilliance to their already unique buildings and pavements, capturing the enticing charm of this “village” in the big city.

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Another perk of being a resident artist of Greenwich Village is meeting the local famous residents. He laughs as he tells us that he embarrassed himself when he met Liv Tyler “I told her I thought she was British. She said ‘why did you think I’m British?’… Because Rolling Stones are British right? She said ‘My dad’s not from the Rolling Stones, he’s Aerosmith!’. I don’t know who is Aerosmith! I mean, I heard their music on the radio, but I don’t know their name. So embarrassing… but she has a few of my paintings… she likes my work.”

And it wasn’t until a friend from the UK sent him a photo from a newspaper of him with Sarah Jessica Parker that he finally realised who she was! Her children often come and see him when he is working. “They love to paint – they always get paint on their clothes! Most of the time they come with their nanny, but sometimes with mum, sometimes dad too.”

IMG_8825 copyKazuya has an online portfolio and a small following on social media. But he says that most of his clients are local – “For them, it’s really special having these paintings. For tourists, they only care about the landmarks. But for the residents, they really care about these places.” 

But he doesn’t live in Greenwich – “I wish, but too expensive! A small studio will cost you like $2000 a month…”

Take a look at Kazuya’s beautiful scenes at:

www.kazuyamorimoto.com                                    www.instagram.com/KazuyaMorimoto