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John Albert Murphy: revelations.

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THE ART OF JOHN ALBERT MURPHY IS COMPLEX, FILLED with allegory and wonderfully surreal. His porcelain surfaces play upon our eyes, while testing our sense of space and dimension. The shapes, patterns and translucent qualities are inviting yet striking and confidant. And then there is the title he gives each work. Each piece carries a hinted message within the title. Upon reading his poetic clues, a new level of revelation clicks through our minds. A message is presented. Metaphors are hinted. Shape, colour and pattern take on new meanings as we re-evaluate the work. The abstract qualities become symbolic. In the final analysis, the artwork of John Albert Murphy displays a robust balance between cerebral and visual planes.

How does an artist arrive at his or her unique form of expression? For Murphy, it has been a long evolution, a 58-year journey through life and the influences that permeated his daily routine. If an artist is a reflection of his art, then Murphy's art is a reflection of his life. Years of small and large creative decisions, numerous experiments and, most importantly, keen observations have taken him on a singular course. His art is a result of problem solving and the tenacious pursuit of creating what has not been seen before.

Innovation is the gift of visionary artists. They bring a new voice to the world, a new way of ex pressing and revealing the world and our place with in it. In many ways, they are pioneers of expression and must invent the processes needed to capture that expression. Like many artists, Murphy's art is the result of his innovative methods, his artistic vision and his inner spirit. All three play a role in each work. What is intriguing about Murphy's art is the history behind each influence.

"I've heard artists create art not because they want to, but because they have to," reflects Murphy. "I feel there is truth in that statement. I have always been one that needs to be busy with my hands." Growing up in Dearborn, Michigan, Murphy kept busy in his father's workshop. "I enjoyed working with wood: sawing, sanding and finishing wooden go-carts, money boxes, almost anything I could imagine. Later in college, my metals class held my attention. Again, sawing, filing and sanding silver, copper and brass, creating rings and pendants, all filled my need to be busy with my hands."

At Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in the early 1970s, Murphy encountered ceramic art under the careful tutelage of John Loree and Joseph Zajac. "They both pushed and encouraged me. I realised clay was in my blood. It was a time of discovery. The endless possibilities of representation in clay keeps me busy pursuing art and also in teaching."

Many years have passed since EMU. Murphy, a recently retired manufacturing analyst at Ford Motor Company, utilises clay-modelling methods similar to the automotive styling studios. He has evolved the process and made it his own to meet his creative expression. The clay forms he designs, then models in clay, are moulded in plaster for casting his ultra thin shapes. Murphy's ceramic forms almost resemble fanciful streamlined components from 1950 dream cars that were never built. Although each shape has an artistic expression, for Murphy they are just the beginning. The shapes become the environment for levels of content.

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"First I work out the ideas in my head and in my heart. Once resolved, I begin to execute. Throwing, handbuilding, press-moulding and slipcasting are all processes I have pursued, the latter being my most recent. I slipcast with porcelain for the translucent quality. Black glaze is sprayed on my masking-tape stencils to obtain the surface pattern design," reveals Murphy.

"The process of slipcasting, bisque firing, sanding, re-bisque firing, taping, spraying, un-taping is a meticulous process, unforgiving and time-consuming," warns Murphy. "During this time, I move into a meditative atmosphere. It is calming and thought provoking. Sometimes my work references inspirations, current events, personal information, or just entertains dreams. I make mental notes, consider designs, then transfer them on to paper to make a master model. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. I discard what doesn't and move on. It is all part of life."

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Murphy adds, "For example... every once-in-awhile during a teaching demonstration, I'll make something on the wheel, push it a little too far and down it comes. Beginning students gasp at the loss, but it really isn't. I simply re-wedge the clay and make it all over again. It is how we are moulded and re shaped along our path in life," Murphy smiles, "but that is a whole other discussion."

"Sometimes, I come-up with titles for my pieces that reflect what I have learned in my Bible studies at Deeper Life Ministries with Pastor Ross Collette. It is an important time in my life. Some of my inspirations lead me to assemble pieces compositionally. I'll sit in my studio and look at the forms for hours, when suddenly I see how to pull it all together. I'll keep making new models, moulds and creations.... keep experimenting, pushing the envelope, and perhaps make some beautiful art," says Murphy.

To create art with impact, an artist needs to connect with life's issues. An artist reveals views, concerns, and joys about life. Only then can the work connect and have relevance with the viewer. Without em bracing these aspects, the work feels hollow. For John Albert Murphy, these proclamations are his foundation. This is the well he draws from, selecting emotions, feelings and spiritual connections to declare in clay. His slipcast forms are the world he creates to express his opinions on life. This is a surreal world, unique in form, but dedicated to everyday issues that the artist elects as worthy of artistic expression. Views on religion, salvation, death, politics and space travel thread their way through his world. It is also our world as seen through Murphy's eyes. And that is what makes it relevant to us, yet uniquely spoken by him.

Frank James Fisher is a ceramic artist and writer on the arts from Michigan, US. Captions title page: Top: Peace. 2005. Slipcast porcelain vessel assembly. 22.5 x 10 x 22.5 cm. Below: Prisoner of the Lord. 2006. Slipcast porcelain vessel assembly. 22.5 x 10 x 22.5 cm.
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Author:Fisher, Frank James
Publication:Ceramics Art & Perception
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2008
Words:1063
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