The "Going Home" Series
Having reached that place on the path of life where the length of the past is so much longer than the length of the future, my mind is often touched by thoughts of mortality, but the major motivation for the ‘Going Home’ series of paintings is from the acknowledgment of how those thoughts of mortality are so quickly broken by the magic of life and existence.
Behind my Cape Cod summer studio there is a salt marsh that spreads out before my studio windows. This marsh has a water inlet that can carry my eyes out into Cape Cod Bay. The beauty of this flat and meditative form is a bed that feeds my creative imagination. The large broad planes of color change with the mixtures of the life - feeding lime greens to the earthen siennas and yellow ochers speckled with intricate details of life and of death. The marsh’s color planes and shapes are constantly changing with the tides and season which add to the marsh’s living vitality.
There are flocks of birds that bury and hide themselves in the grassy bed and then suddenly rise up to create patterns of movement across the air that caresses the marsh. And there are those still-blue herons and white egrets, beautiful visual gems appearing here and there by Nature’s force.
In this ‘Going Home’ series the motifs from the marsh along with shapes and compositions from my creative imagination merge with the organic hieroglyphics of the paint strokes to create the structure of these paintings.
Christus Murphy in his Cape Cod studio
Over the years, even though all of the elements of my painting have been in constant play, there have been for me periods of time when the focus and emphasis of particular elements have become the major consideration and force of my work.
The emphasis and focus of my painting have varied over the years. For a period of time the composition and drawing was the focus; then the marriage of the paint strokes with the shapes. Then there was a period when color was a major element in my painting rather than just a way to enhance all of the other elements. Now, and for the last few years, my focus has become more on what I refer to as the organic structure of the paint. This focus has been intensifying in strength and I am excited as to where this focus will carry me.
Many times I have looked at the oil paint on my palette and thought that some of my best painting was right there. I was excited to look at those streaks and swirls of color and to see how there is such intrinsic beauty in the formations of this mixed paint. I was also excited to see how streaks of colors blend and flow and how small landscapes with waves of paint spread out into hills and valleys and then to see how light gives dimension to these paint structures that are so alive. It is with these uplifting inspirations that I can go to the easel trying to allow the paint to work its magic, to go with and use the natural tendencies of the fluid oil paint in order to give vitality and life to the work.
Over the years I have, of course, believed that the vitality and the life of the paint on the canvas was a very important force to be dealt with and that it was this force that gave the painting surface what I have called a ‘living skin’. But now I think that I understand with more clarity my relationship to the magical organic structure of the paint and how it can be used to bring my painting to a higher level of tactile reality.
Insights of a Painter after Romania
November 29, 2005 | Updated October 2011
Life in Romania is closer to the primal core of existence. Up in the hills near Sibiu, where my wife and I lived for 4 1/2 months from September 2004 through January of 2005 while she was a visiting Fulbright Scholar, the primal core was apparent in different ways. There, inside the dark interior of a beautiful old church, with its domed ceiling bursting forth with gems of color and gold, were contained and kneeling, the crippled, the poor and the middle class, a community of souls, all crying out with those inborn hungers of the species, asking and begging for redemption or for that union with the unknown. In this mysterious and mystical environment of time's creation, the air was filled with the smell of incense and the musical chanting of the priests and then this organic structure was opened before me with a sharp incision of the moment.
Setting up a studio in a foreign country exposes the artist to a new bombardment of sensual and spiritual inspirations. In a new environment we are separated from those familiar enticing elements which we can sometimes, unfortunately, take for granted. It's great to be in a place where your senses have been scraped clean and exposed so that you are consciously and creatively more alive. While I was in Romania my mind was filled with visions of paintings that were demanding to come out. There were painting visions that were reactions to this experience of being there; painting visions inspired by the excitement of being so alive with my wife, Janet, in that world; painting visions that I carried to Romania that were changed by being there. For four months I had a very productive period in my wonderful Romanian studio and then I was hit by a two week time span of questions and doubts about my work and the painting process; a confrontation of thoughts and questions on how to strengthen my ability to express what I was compelled to paint.
After years of painting, I have become, to some extent, accustomed to these periods of doubt, frustration and self-examination, knowing that these questions and doubts that confront the artist can bring about breakthroughs, and also knowing that it's too easy and tempting to just repeat formulas that are exciting and have worked. For, to continue to feast on these formulas is a painter's meal of death. During this time of examination I began to see with greater clarity ways to bring my visions to the canvas. I had found a path that I could follow with passion, at least, that is, until I face the next confrontation.
I have been thinking of having a show of recent work that could be titled, "After Romania". Since I have returned, I have again entered into a very exciting and productive period. Now I have in my studio on West Broad Street, paintings that were painted in Romania, paintings that were started there and finished here in Richmond, paintings that were inspired by being in Romania, paintings that I had not anticipated but came forth, paintings that were inspired by a new model and paintings that have been inspired by new experiences and thoughts.