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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Blood & Oil

This is a short film that we came across as we were writing about our new friends from Nashville, the Blackbirds – Gentlemen’s Motorbike Assembly. An extremely tallented filmmaker Cale Glendening made this piece of art with the Blackbirds in 2014. I hope this inspires you as much as it inspires us to create.

Nashville Diaries

We were just supposed to be in Nashville for a day or two… we had one meeting planned and a couple of potential connections. The meeting turned into a perfect day of music, philosophy and, surprisingly, off-roading…

That evening, with very muddy tyres, we went up to Nashville not knowing where we were going and without plans. But it happened that Glen, an Aussie friend from Hong Kong, was in town at the same time. The person that he was going to meet invited him to an event that night – so we ended up at launch party for Weld; a creative collaborative space for designers, photographers and artists. Never have we seen so many hipsters in one room!

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Catching up with friends at Weld

It was a night of connections – first we were shocked to see two guys we knew from Hong Kong – Nick “the Greek” Georgiou, who had cut his epic beard, and Brady Toops who was now a Reality TV star. And the surprises continued when Michal met not one, but two people from university who he hadn’t seen for over ten years!

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Nick the Greek

Nick the Greek had promised us a tour of Fort Houston, where he works. “The Fort” as it is lovingly referred to, is an old hosiery factory that has been converted into workshop space for woodworkers, mechanics, metal smiths, artists and artisans. (For more on the Fort see our write up here).

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Is Everything In Order?

Inspired by the serious motorbikes that surrounded us, Michal started tinkering with the Land Rover engine. Honestly, the engine had cut out a couple of times previously, so we knew we needed to check it.

The oil was REALLY low. And Michal tried to clean the fuel pump… but it turns out that Michal doesn’t know as much as he thinks he knows about engines, and it’s easier to unscrew something than put it back together.

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Becoming a real man…

So as we were driving away, we realised that the engine didn’t sound right… it was coughing and lurching and was obvious that we weren’t going anywhere!

But thankfully, we had hardly got out of the parking lot, and the motorcycle boys either knew what to do or knew whom to call. And amazingly there was a Land Rover specialist around the corner, who said that he would come over after work to check it out.

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Stuck in Nashville

When the mechanic showed up, he told us that we needed a new lift pump; and because it’s a unique car we needed to order it from a specialist dealer in New York. If we got the fastest shipping it would be here before the weekend…

So we were stuck in Nashville… but, hey… there are worse places to be stuck!

Over the next couple of days, we slowly fell in love with Nashville. The guys at Fort Houston took us under their collective wing, and we were semi-initiated into the Blackbirds Gentlemen’s Motorbike Assembly with the super spicy Hattie B’s chicken and the Fort Houston jersey.

The only problem was, we don’t have a motorbike… we only have a broken down Land Rover… but they didn’t seem to mind ☺

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Nick and Tanner, the Blackbirds

After two days of getting to know the city and the arts community, Friday morning came. After a serious breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we retuned to the Fort hoping that the part would have arrived.

But when we saw that the mail had been delivered and there was nothing for us, and that I still hadn’t received the confirmation email or tracking number from the company, we started to worry… If we didn’t get it today, we would be stuck until after the weekend!

Just then, I got an email saying that there was an incorrect zipcode on the order, and that I needed to call UPS to find out where the parcel was!

I finally got the tracking number, called UPS, and they told me that the shipment had been rerouted and that, even with the new, correct zip code, it wouldn’t be delivered until Monday…

But, Nick the Greek, a.k.a our saviour, got the address, jumped on his Harley and drove for over two hours to pick it up for us… and he even managed to grab us pizza in the process!

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To the rescue!

The mechanic was busy the whole day, and didn’t show up until 7.30pm on Friday night. He is obsessed with Land Rovers, and although he knew them well, he had never actually seen the 300TDi before. He was like a kid in a candy shop! And was very entertaining… we learned a lot that evening, and not just about Land Rovers… Patrick, one of the motorcycle guys stayed with us until 1am to help us finish, before being woken up early by his 2 year old daughter… I don’t think he got much sleep!

With the car fixed, there was a weight off our shoulders, and we should have been on our way. But we were having too much fun, and there was so much creative stuff going on that we had to at least stay for the weekend.

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Louise playing at Nashville’s Art Crawl, Fort Houston

Too many wonderful people and experiences to post about – artists, entrepreneurs, Land Rover lovers, lakes, barbecues, musicians… our souls were enriched and our senses were saturated!

We knew that we had to get back on the road, but put off saying goodbye for as long as we could. We had really found a home in Nashville – people who we admired, were inspired by, saw eye to eye with, laughed and ate and fixed things with.

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Bennett’s Airstream; Born in the N.A.S.H, at Porter Flea

We had been blown away by their hospitality, their generosity, their willingness to help us out and go the extra mile, or 100 miles, for. It’s an amazing feeling to be welcomed in to a community like the one we found at Fort Houston. What they have is truly special. We know we will be back.

After checking the oil one final time, (we had changed it once, and then again by accident!) we finally set off as the sun was setting and the rain stopped pouring.

And as we drove away, we were already trying to figure out how and when we could come back to Nashville. Michal realised the next day that he left his camera charger… I guess we’ll just have to go and get it!

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On the Road Again

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.

What do Al Capone, Snoop Dogg and Dolly Parton have in common?

The answer is The Castle in Franklin, just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Built in 1929, this beautifully unique piece of architecture served as a hideout for Al Capone and his companions on trips from Chicago to New Orleans. There are still gambling symbols carved into the entryway, and rumours of secret passages and unmarked graves on the grounds…

The property was later converted into a high-end restaurant frequented by famous artists, but after falling into private hands, it looked like The Castle’s star studded days would be over.

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Jozef in front of the Castle Recording Studios

In 1981, Jozef Nuyens, a Belgian music student studying in Nashville, saw the property advertised in a magazine, and with a lot of ambition and energy, though he admits without much experience, bought the property with a dream of turning it into a studio.

“I was taken advantage of quite a few times in those early days. I learnt a lot very fast. You do when you are young!”

Jozef grew up in a very musical family, and from a young age toured with his family band. “We became much more successful than we ever imagined. So when I studied music at university, I was just learning the theory of everything that I had already been doing.”

Jozef’s lack of experience didn’t stand in the way, and within several years, the studio was attracting some of the biggest names in the region. Hundreds of Gold and Platinum Records have been produced at the Castle – “Often, the records produced here were the artist’s first ever Gold or Platinum Record… there’s just something about this place…”

And we felt that “something” too – from Dolly Parton to Snoop Dogg, Lionel Richie to Miley Cyrus and Johnny Cash to Bruce Springsteen, the legendary list of artists that have filled this place with their spellbinding melodies hangs beautifully and magically in the air.

Jozef attributes a lot of his success to his “left-brain, right-brain” balance. At undergraduate level he studied Maths and Latin, and manages to strike what seems to be the perfect balance between creativity and logic, between visionary dreams and meticulously planned strategies.

“I often acted almost as a ‘translator’ between artists and record labels. The labels want one thing and sometimes the artists want something different, so I helped them to understand how each other was thinking. And then find the right compromise.

“I didn’t get artists signed necessarily because I was a genius producer. I just understand both parties.”

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Jozef with his studio manager Beau

Jozef has since invested in a wide portfolio of different businesses; technology and finance and creative endeavours. He had stopped producing musicians, leaving the day-to-day production to his talented team. But one day, at his son’s annual recital, he heard an astounding young talent and knew he had to give him a chance.

As we sat, listening to the record they had just mastered, it was clear that Jozef still has his keen eye for what makes music that is just really good. Bright, catchy hooks; deep, simmering arrangements; intriguing, clever lyrics; and a voice that has maturity and depth beyond its years… What an honour for young artists like us to soak up this creative wisdom.

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Jozef and Louise listening to “Sail On” in Studio B

So as we sat, enjoying a proper Southern “meat and three” meal, we asked Jozef for his advice to two creative adventurers, and his advice was so pure and simple, but so fundamentally core that it will stay with us for many years:

“Keep doing what you love.”