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Murphy‘s Law

Rick Coates - July 26th, 2007
As artist Charles Murphy puts the final brush strokes on his latest work, “Dockside July,” he sits back and reflects on his 30 years of life and work in the Traverse City area.
Murphy is an artist of international acclaim and his work will be celebrated in a 30th anniversary exhibition titled “Full Circle” at the Twisted Fish Gallery in Elk Rapids. A collection of Murphy’s works will be exhibited starting July 27 with an artist reception from 6 to 8 p.m. and the show continuing through August 19.
“We are calling it ‘Full Circle’ because when I came here I started in Elk Rapids,” said Murphy. “I opened a gallery here 30 years ago and I was the only gallery in town at the time. Now the community has five galleries.”
Murphy grew up in southern Minnesota and starting drawing with a ballpoint pen at an early age, “as long as I can remember.” His first inspiration was his grandfather who was fluent with the pencil and would entertain at social gatherings by drawing caricatures.
Murphy’s parents encouraged his artistic talents throughout his childhood and in 1974 he graduated from Minnesota State University with a BFA in studio art. After graduation he moved east to Cape Cod to start a life as an artist.
“As a child I grew up around and spent a lot of time in ‘dockside communities’ so I have always felt a strong pull and inspiration to communities with lakes. There is this 45th Parallel thing as well some sort of magnetic force that keeps those of us raised near it wanting to live along it,” said Murphy. “Growing up Minnesota, there was this pride thing of being the land of 10,000 lakes, we even have it on our license plates. Then I come to Michigan and find out there are 11,000 lakes.”
While living in Cape Cod, Murphy read about some art fairs in Michigan and decided to seek a couple out. One of those was at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City.
“We didn’t have a rural art scene in Minnesota. The metro areas had a small scene and there were just a couple of true art fairs in the state. Then I get this brochure and see Michigan has 300 art fairs and said to myself, ‘I have to check this out.’ I felt an immediate connection when I arrived,” said Murphy. “There were so many working artists in the area, and I knew it was important to be in a support network. The artists here immediately welcomed me in. It is something that this area has been very good at. It is why Northern Michigan is becoming a destination for cultural tourists.”
Murphy opened his gallery in Elk Rapids in 1977. He also displayed his early works in Traverse City at a gallery on Union Street where he sold his first piece locally.
“I remember getting a call from the gallery and they were so excited because Barbara Dennos had just been in and bought one of my pieces,” said Murphy. “My response was ‘who?’ as I didn’t know the Dennos family.”
Murphy is now quite familiar with the Dennos family, as is the area arts community. Barbara Dennos and her husband have been major contributors to the Northern Michigan arts and cultural community, including the Michael and Barbara Dennos Museum  
“Sure I remember. I was immediately attracted to his work,” says Barb Dennos. “In fact I ended up buying the complete collection. It was four paintings in all. It was the Robe Series. I own seven paintings in all from Charles Murphy and I wished I owned more, but I don’t have the wall space. His work is too good to put in a closet -- it belongs where it can be seen daily. Charles is also genuine person who is committed to helping the arts region in the area.” 
While his works adorn the homes and offices of art aficionados around Northern Michigan, Murphy has also established an international following. He has sold pieces in at least a half dozen countries and all 50 states, thanks to a Chicago based art dealer who marketed Murphy’s works to corporate and institutional clients worldwide. Companies ranging from Kraft, General Motors, Mead Corporation and John Hancock have scooped up Murphy originals over the years. His works have also been popular with private collectors.
“Charles is a people’s artist,” said Bob Streit, owner of Twisted Fish Gallery. “When we opened this gallery four years ago he was one of 12 artists in the region we wanted. I believe he is the one artist in the area that understands the big picture. He makes himself accessible to the public, people like having that connection to the artist. They want to know something about the person whose work is hanging in their home. He also understands the business of art better than most and that keeps his pieces increasing in value. As for his work, the fact that he is willing to take chances and expand his scope keeps people interested. He has the unique ability to go in several directions at the same time.”
So, does Murphy ever get “painters block”?
“Rarely,” chuckles Murphy. “I have ongoing series, so if I do get stuck, I turn to another project and often that helps give inspiration to what I had been currently working on.”
Murphy primarily works in watercolors, but started with oils years ago and recently he has been increasing the number of oil paintings. His most recent work, “Dockside July,” (see photo) will be on exhibit at Twisted Fish and is part of his ongoing “Dockside Series.”
“I have always been attracted to the sounds, smells and views of lakeside communities,” said Murphy. “Dockside July is a fictional lakeside community, a collection of several communities I have visited over the years. I am drawn to this region because of the water; even my studio is on water.”
The other attraction to the area is the number of artists. That number keeps growing and Murphy thinks it’s great.
“It is so important to have that support network to discuss issues with your colleagues,” said Murphy. “We are small business owners with the same challenges other entrepreneurs are faced with, so having other artists to share ideas with is important.”
Murphy sees another important aspect to the growing art community: economic benefits.
“If you look at communities around this country that have struggled, their economic renaissance started when artists, galleries and coffee shops took over vacated warehouse districts and made their communities desirable again to investors,” said Murphy. “Then artists and galleries had to move on because they couldn’t afford the rent. Cultural tourism is another important aspect and something tourism leaders have been slow to respond to. There is a real opportunity to attract visitors to this region with all that we have to offer culturally. We know they are coming from miles away already because myself and gallery owners asked and so many visitors are from out of state. Last year I was at Twisted Fish painting and every visitor to the gallery was from out of state.”
Bob Streit says those insights by Murphy coupled with his ongoing support of the local artists puts him in a league of his own.
“Charles is right on when he talks about the economic importance of an established arts community. He is correct that the business community needs to do a better job recognizing that,” said Streit. “He also is such an inspiration to others. Despite his stature in the art world he is very supportive of other artists. He attends their openings and is so good natured and his commitment to the area has attracted other artists of world acclaim.”
Streit points out that while many artists always seem to be “too busy,” Murphy isn’t. “He is always willing to give of his time to galleries and fellow artists. He is either painting, at a gallery or giving a workshop.”
“I do work every day,” said Murphy. “I enjoy giving workshops or being the guest artist at art centers. When I am not doing that, I am a student myself, reading and studying the latest.”
As with all small businesses, Murphy is approached often for donations of his art.
“I limit my donations to a few areas that include education, the arts and medicine,” he said. “I also limit the number of pieces donated each year primarily because to many pieces in the marketplace at auction would deflate the value and hurt the charities ability to capture.”
Catch up with Charles Murphy and offer him congratulations on his 30th anniversary at the Twisted Fish Gallery (10443 S. Bayshore Drive in Elk Rapids) for a reception July 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. There will be an anniversary luncheon on August 11 at which Murphy will speak about his work. For info, call the Twisted Fish Gallery at 231-264-0123.
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