Five Questions for Dan Murphy

Timeless and Universal

We sit down with sculptor Dan Murphy.

 1. I like the combination of darkness and light in your work...your sculptures are sinister and humorous at the same time. Do you think about this balance as you create?

Definitely. Nobody likes getting hit on the head with a hammer, which is what happens when the work is too dark. The flip side is nobody looks at the work seriously if it's just humorous. Since I see myself primarily as a storyteller, I have to have conflict, and that conflict between light and dark is as fundamental and universal as you can get.

2. It seems as though this type of work would require a lot of space and materials. Where do you work? Can you describe your process? Do you listen to music, do you devote whole days to your work or find time whenever you can? Did you learn the process through your job?

That's a constant problem. I've trashed some apartments. Fiberglass work more or less has to be done outside. There's a lot of guerilla work here--do it where and when I can before somebody starts complaining.

I don't listen to music and I put as much time as I can into my work. I don't care about a social life at all because it interferes with the work. I'm primarily self-taught but I did work in a studio specializing in big projects for the them industry. I learned fiberglass there and basic mold-making.

For my originals, I use whatever works--plaster, joint compound, glue, clay, paper clay, and a lot of sand paper. I've done a lot of experimenting. This stuff gets expensive and time consuming, so I have to get very creative since I'm usually broke as a dog.

3. I see a lot of mythological aspects to your work--particularly in the angels series. And you describe your work as telling stories. Do your figures occupy some place in a mythological world? Do they work together in some system of deities or legends?

I avoid anything to do with pop culture since it gets dated so quickly and it lacks any kind of substance. What I'm trying to do is create things that cross cultures and language barriers. I want the work to be both timeless and universal in its story. My angels, in particular, tell the story of eve over and over--the danger of beauty and temptation. I really try to get the tension in there. My heads are psychological profiles where I aim to get the essence of character by placing dioramas, text, symbols or whatever best exposes the soul. I operate with the concept that if a picture's worth a thousand words, how many are a sculpture worth?

4. The masks, in particular, remind me of superheroes, which also seems to fit into an examination of darkness, light, and myth. Did you read comicbooks as a kid? Are there particular superheroes who fascinate you? Or is there some other association with the masks that you can share. Which artists influence your work? Which writers?

The masks are just plain fun. I'm shooting for cinematic effect--images so familiar that you can almost hear the drumbeat, or the ominous music. My centaurs are based on the premise that whoever was cool enough to come up with the elephant had to do some experimenting. Tree decorations and lawn art are meant to fire up the imagination of little kids and appeal to what's left of a sense of wonder in adults, while simultaneously trying to foster an appreciation of nature.

The main influence on my work is the book "the artist's way." I work off visions and that book is about removing obstacles. So now when I see something in my head I feel an obligation to do it. I usually don't know what I'm doing when I make something, get frustrated, break stuff, fight my way through, but then one day I finish and I look at it and say, "I did that? Wonder how that happened?" and I chalk it up to some external force channeling through me.

5. Everyone gets a question from the Proust Questionnaire, and here is yours: For what fault do you have the most toleration?
I guess what I'm most tolerant of is the foolish things people do for love, because when ya get right down to it that's probably what makes us human--the need for love.

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