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Sport, spacemen and following your dreams

Having mentored under some of New York’s most iconic painters, Brendan Murphy is a world-renowned artist who continues to push the walls of creativity beyond the confines of the canvas. Consistently experimenting with sculpture, concept pieces, and a wide range of different materials and tools, Brendan’s talent lies in his ability in balancing these various elements of exploration against the backdrop of his greatest inspirations; formulas, equations, relationships and the spectrum of human emotion. 


In his boldly graphic chalkboard series, Murphy predominately uses symbols, figures and words to fill vast surface areas that vary in material and texture. Playing with the precise nature of equations – a recurring theme in Murphy’s work – his artworks translate the abstruse nature of emotion into imaginative formulas. 


Mimicking the randomness and nonsensical decisions the heart seems to make, Murphy’s artworks are charged with colour and immediacy. In his Boonji Spaceman series, Murphy examines the magic of exploration both in a personal and spatial sense. The spaceman, according to Murphy, is the perfect embodiment of the human desire to look ahead and venture beyond boundaries; encouraging viewers to embrace the unknown and be present in the moment – which in Murphy’s eyes is the purest form of existence. 


Sports World Magazine sat down with Brendan to talk sport, spacemen and following your dreams. 


Can you tell us about your journey as an artist? 

I played professional basketball for a long time, in Europe. Then I ended up in New York working as a trader on Wall Street – stocks and so on. My transition to becoming an artist can be pinpointed to a single day – 9/11.  I was on the ground when it happened. Everyone who worked on Wall Street lost friends, we all knew people who died that day. It was a real wake up call. That day was like a mirror for a lot of people and made many of us question ‘am I doing what I really want to be doing?’ That’s when I decided to leave finance and become an artist. I remember getting out of New York on the day of 9/11 before they set up the roadblocks and spending this very eerie night in a cabin I had in the woods just painting. I had been painting as a hobby for a while, but that house became my studio. I played poker for a few years to survive whilst I painted. I was fortunate that I had friends who were very famous painters – Eric Fischl for example. I would hit tennis balls with him in exchange to go to his studio to see his work. Also, David Salle and Robert Bleckner – I got a crash course with two or three of the best painters in the world. That also was a big deal. I remember watching them work and thinking ‘what a life!’  So, between 2001- 2005, I had a crash course in art history, and I began to experiment with different materials and that just started the entire process. 


Did you have a creative childhood?

I come from an Irish-Italian family in Boston and if you said you were a painter, that meant you painted homes. I didn’t come from a community where you would say I am going to be an artist. Realising that I was a creative person and not a finance guy in my 30s – it was a tough realisation and transition. 


Were you scared to leave the finance world?

I probably embrace the unknown a lot easier than most people. That doesn’t mean I’m not terrified, but I realised early on that when you’re really nervous and uncomfortable it usually means growth. I am a creative person and I had to finally accept it. That was a beautiful process. Scary, but worth it. I just knew I had to be doing something creative. I had really got into playing tennis and inadvertently started a tennis clothing line called ‘Solfire’, simply by taking some of the designs I had on canvas and putting them on blank tennis clothes. I was living in Florida and New York at the time and it really took off. I felt like making clothing was a vehicle for my creativity and coincidentally as soon as it became a real business I got out and sold it in 2014, but the beginning process was really fun. I was making clothing for Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. It was great.


Have you always been drawn to formulas? What is it about them that you connect with?

When I owned my clothing company Solfire, I was really starting to find my voice as an artist and painter. I started experimenting with abstract designs and bright colours and slowly I was learning about materials. I had a whole series of paintings of the female figure – silhouettes – and I didn’t know what else to do with them, so I started writing formulas just trying to figure out my own emotions. Formulas became a real-time way of me growing up on the canvas. Figuring things out. At the same time, they took up a lot of space on the canvas and they had an interesting look to it – they came off of the coloured background and became an integral part of my work. The next big jump was Eric Fischl – my mentor – he said why don’t you try and do a painting without a female figure and only words. That was very challenging and that’s how I landed on the chalkboard paintings; simply as a means of challenging myself. 


The formulas are linked to emotions – is this dependent on how you feel on the day? 

Life is liquid. It’s not A+B+C . The irony of the formulas is we’re all trying to figure out the answer. They don’t make any sense our feelings and if we follow them they can put us at risk – saying the wrong thing, heartbreak etc. The fact of the matter is there’s a whole part of our life where if you go to work, do this and do that, generally in society we think it equals one set answer, but that’s not how life works. Our emotions are liquid, they come and go. The paintings are a reflection of how we think. Creatively, it lets me off the hook because the formulas are abstract – there is no real answer – so it’s a fun thing for me to try figure out. What is the formula for infatuation? Embracing the unknown? What are those feelings? It’s a little bit of fear. Hope. You get butterflies. Suddenly you have this formula which abstractly equals taking the next step. 


You have recently just launched your own app Boonji – can you talk about the influence of technology on your art? 

I would say my interest in technology is directly related to how technology helps us to communicate. What’s odd is there are all these ways of communicating and I find it harder and harder to get people on the phone. We have every way to communicate with somebody but it’s hard. With my app ‘Boonji,’ it allows you to communicate in a new way. Essentially you choose the emotion you are feeling, and the algorithm will create a formula. The definition of ‘Boonji’ is positive energy derived from creativity, but the app is specifically designed to help somebody share a feeling. Say you type in the word ‘passion’ – the algorithm will create a formula equalling passion and you can recreate the formulas until it really speaks to you, then you can send that formula to somebody. I feel good that it’s a reality and it’s out there for people to use. It coexists with my artwork nicely. 


Can you talk about the idea behind the Boonji Spaceman series?

The big idea behind the spaceman series is that it has nothing to do with space. Instead, it has everything to do with the step that he’s taking – that step into the unknown. The sculpture is actually made from fibre-glass but is applied with a chrome metal layering technique I have developed. If I wasn’t specific about the materials I use, I would not get the same end result, so every single detail is of the utmost importance – the combination of the formulas on the chrome, the gradient colours etc. I want to keep pushing it with materials; construction, durability, all these layers of uniqueness that create something people haven’t seen before. I’m constantly pushing myself – we all must step forward and embrace the unknown.

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