44" x 36" | Oil on canvas | 1957
Christus Murphy studied under Lawrence Kupferman, an abstract expressionist, and Patrick Gavin, an academician, in the Drawing and Painting Department of the Massachusetts College of Art, earning his BFA in 1953. He spent the next seven years painting, working as a part-time freelance illustrator and teaching at the Vesper George School of Art in Boston. He exhibited at the Cambridge Art Association in l954, the Boston Arts Festival in 1954,1955, and 1956, and the Carl Siembab Gallery on Newbury Street in Boston from 1957 to 1959. He spent a year and a half painting and traveling through Italy and Spain, followed by a show of his work which sold out at the Sarte Gallery in Las Palmas, Spain.
Returning to the United States, he gave up painting in spite of his successes because, as he explains, "It was a time of absolute artistic frustration. The difference between the image that I saw in my mind and the image I was able to put down on canvas was, for me, far too great."
For the next seventeen years he worked as a full-time associate illustrator and account executive with an advertising agency in Boston. In 1977 he set up a studio and started painting again.
"My painting experience has been in two segments quite distant in time from each other and very different in technique. Although the kinds of things that I have a desire to say are not really so different in nature, I have had to find a whole new painting vocabulary in order to say them. Back in the 1950's when abstract expressionism was so predominant, it had a strong influence on my work and it was with that kind of paint application that I would structure the elements of my paintings. I used a fast drying plastic medium (called Hypalon), which was fast enough to stop dripping paint in its tracks. I had an aversion to gradation and rendering and a desire to create the image with a somewhat out-of-control application of paint. I was trying to
Christus Murphy in his studio, 1978
obtain a strong marriage between the paint and the image structure, wanting to bring the image into existence in the most direct way by having bold brush strokes themselves create the anatomical structure of the figures.
In my early years, along with the abstract expressionist application of paint, I found the imagery of the Italio Byzantine very much akin to the kind of image I wanted to paint.In the second segment of my painting career, I found that for painting techniques, I was drawn to the painters such as Velazquez and John Singer Sargent, painters whom I had previously rejected. By studying their painting techniques, my objective was to bring fluidity and at the same time control to the application of my paint. By trying to maintain some of the qualities I had pursued by studying other painters and by changing and distorting images of the visual world, I was working to bring form and structure to those images that come from within, to bring visual form to that which is not visual and in the process to bring to my paintings that quality of fluidity captured, creating a painting surface vitality, a living skin, that is so unique to oil paintings.
Now it seems as though the two segments of my painting career have merged. Today I look back to my early years with a kind of respect and understanding of what I was trying to do then and how I intuitively tried to do it. I can see why my excitement for the abstract expressionist movement was so akin to my being as a painter. Now, with a long journey of searching behind me, I seem to have found with more clarity what I have been looking for since the nineteen fifties. The excitement for me is how the pursuit of those two periods is coming forth in my present work."