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Julie Murphy doodles a cast of creatures to life

Julie Murphy’s route to artistic affirmation has been anything but direct. The life-long doodler has performed research through her series of life choices and personal experiences. Now the artist creates her drawings, illustrations and etchings in her Ravenswood art studio, shared with friend and printmaker Sarah Conner.

"Furniture Dance Party,"
Julie Murphy
"Bunny Snail,"
Julie Murphy

Murphy’s pieces are populated with imaginary characters, often drafted with bright multi-colored hues. Each introduces a world previously unseen by viewers, a true insight to her subconscious.

She concedes that her method is not as much narrative, as it is experimental. She engages in very minimal planning before beginning a new work, “I do not usually sit down with an idea of how something is going to turn out,” she says. “As a result, it means I have a lot of drafts that do not work. I have stacks and stacks of pieces that began as a kernel of an idea.”

Her characters are both flawed and unusual. She finds that the most interesting characters, in both the real world and the imaginary, are the ones who did not fit into any category or stereotype. She says, "I'm absolutely not obsessed with perfection, in fact, I really don't like it."

While viewers may associate her work with comics and narrative illustrations, Murphy says she is a more of a casting director than a storyteller. Her creatures and hybrids occupy the same space, without interacting; they are essentially lost with each other. Murphy presents this is as an ode to city life, being frequently surrounded by other people, without knowing a thing about them.

While drawing remains a constant, her art has evolved in distinguishable phases. The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California offered her exceptional skills to add to her artistic toolbox, and since then, has continued to learn and diversify her craft, refusing to settle into a comfort zone.

She often pulls from her experience in the working world. While it has not always been ideal to split her time between art and a regular administrative or service job, it has provided endless inspiration for her artwork.

Murphy says, “I have always had a job, because I could never make ends meet as an artist, and I was always a little resentful of that. I finally came to the conclusion that I need to have that one foot in the other world, as a muse for my work.”

In her collection, “Cubelandia,” Murphy illustrates the life of the American corporate cubicle worker in all its dim and comical glory. While cubicle satires are popular in movies and television, she truly captures the office color scheme, the relatable coworkers and of course, the utter lack of privacy.

Working as an administrative assistant for the American Medical Association for six years, she did not even have the luxury of a full cube. “All the assistants had short cubes rather than a full wall, so I basically worked in a drive-thru window,” she says.

With little knowledge of health care policy and no desire to obtain it, Murphy’s desk rapidly filled with post its of doodles of everything her mind pictured, whether it be an emotionally unstable stapler, a sassy binder clip, or what colleagues really wear under their corporate business attire. In her series of “Meeting Notes,” she presents all of the characters she drew on her legal pads during the lunch meetings at the AMA.

Murphy’s coworkers and the united band of cubicle workers and empathizers have all approached her about how true to form and absolutely wonderful it is to pay tribute to the ridiculously common life of Cubelandia.

Almost as intriguing as her unique characters, is her clever use of color. A Murphy original is often draped with every conceivable color. She says, “A problem I ran into in my early years of painting and drawing was my attraction to colors. I used to use way too many and they turned out hideous. Working on printmaking helped me with that, since there are limited colors you can etch on the plate.”

While many artists are afraid to take a chance on color and mixing, Murphy finds her challenge is scaling back. In her series of creatures, entitled, “Creatures Menagerie,” she opts to utilize very few colors. She says, “My neutral or monochrome experiments are attempts to fully focus on the lines and design.”

Her illustrations have been published in LA Weekly, Global Brief Magazine, National Parks and American Illustration for four consecutive years. The City of Chicago also asked Murphy to customize the Guimard on the entrance of Chicago’s famous Metra station located on Michigan Avenue, originally designed by architect Hector Guimard. Her enlarged rendition of the image, “Bunny Snail,” is pictured to left and presently welcomes commuters to the historic site.

Her current exhibition, “Escape into Absurdity” presents more than 33 pieces offering viewers the opportunity of escapism. “The works are absurd, and so is our world,” she says. “We need to embrace the chaos.”

She sees the humor in a red line commute at rush hour, the awkward moment with a stranger in the elevator and the bureaucracy we are forced to believe in. She creates a world where we can get away from ourselves and most importantly, smile.

Murphy says, “There is so much joy to be found in not being serious. Allow yourself to channel that inner imaginative person. Everyone has it. We are taught to ignore it, and as adults, it is discouraged.”

“Escape into Absurdity” is showing until April 20 at the City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower at 806 N. Michigan Avenue and sponsored by the City of Chicago Cultural Center. The gallery is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Achieving success as an artist has been no easy or predictable feat, the vibrant Murphy simply laughs and says, “Let’s just say I took the circuitous route.”

To view work from her series "Escape to Absurdity," "Creatures of Menagerie" and "Cubelandia," view the slideshow to the left and see her entire collection on her website

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