Brian Murphy: The Happiness Sculptor
By Anna Spier
Brian Murphy says his studio reminds him of a clubhouse. The white walls are covered from floor to ceiling with stylized, minimalistic wire sculptures. The four off-white walls are like the inside of a sketchbook, covered with black line drawings with occasional outlines in yellow, red, blue, and green. The room reflects the fun and childlike sculptures that Murphy creates so expertly.
Wire sculpting was not originally a part of Murphy’s plan. Murphy is also a child therapist, working specifically with children exposed to trauma. Murphy would often use art as a tool to help children become more expressive. He started by making magic wands out of wire and jewels to help kids suffering from night fears defend themselves from monsters in the middle of the night. The wands were just the beginning. Soon he was making wire robots on the floor and bird mobiles that hung from the ceiling.
“Pretty soon it took off and became a full-time art thing,” Murphy said.
Murphy moved to a studio in the South End and began to create the pieces that embodied the same whimsicality as the pieces he had made with the children he worked with. Bright yellow labels beneath the sculptures read amusing and witty titles like “Hunchback of Notre Dame Horrified by the Price of Milk” and “Trumpian Queen.”
“I feel like there’s a lot of serious art out there and this is kind of an antidote to that. It’s an attempt to be more lighthearted and happy,” Murphy said.
Murphy has also used his sculptures as a way of pointing out social and political issues that he believes warrant discussion. These satirical and wonderfully clever pieces provide social commentary on hot topics ranging from Donald Trump to mansplaining. Murphy hopes that people will see ideas in his work that they can relate to whether they be, gender issues, gay-straight issues, or political issues.
While some pieces may seem like they would be easy to make, this is far from true. When using a single piece of steel wire, it can be difficult to capture all of the “charm and childlikeness” that sets Murphy’s work apart. Not only does Murphy have to find a way to use the single wire to create a powerful image, he also gives his images additional life by incorporating elements of light and movement. Shadows can be cast on the wall behind a piece to add a sense of ominousness. Sculptures are also placed on wooden platforms that pick up vibrations from the floor and move as people approach them.
“The pieces become enlivened and become moving so it’s almost like you’re interacting with them,” Murphy said.
Murphy believes that his imaginative wire sculptures are for both the young and the old, as long as they are open-minded and responsive to humor. When making his pieces, Murphy likes to consider how the world will be in the future.
“Especially when you work with children it’s important to think about the future and the way you want the world to be,” Murphy said. “The whole thing with making art is the idea that you’re trying to make life better and more livable.”
Photos and video courtesy of Anna Spier