Updated: May 7
On painting: "We are only working on one human sense. Sight. Everything else has to be imagined. I can paint fog, rain, snow, smoke, fill out sails and tilt a boat in a starboard list, but all of the atmospheric senses, feel, taste, touch, hearing, have to be imagined." Lee Murphy
In A Day to Remember, Murphy does indeed engage our senses as we look at this scene of the end of a day's sailing. Murphy provides us with an indication of the gentle movement of the water, enough for us to hear a few waves lapping against a nearby shore. A bit of brine fills the cooling evening air to tingle in our noses, while a slight taste of salt from the atmosphere has settled on our lips. We can feel the warmth of the last glimmers of a setting sun, as its fireworks light up the horizon and reflect off the clouds. The couple is bent, each one over a specific task. The man touches the rough canvas of the sail. The woman's hands wind up a sturdy rope of raspy fiber. Soon we will hear their tired feet on the wooden planks of the boat dock on their way to perhaps enjoy a dinner of seafood and a toast to the last colors of the setting sun.
For Murphy art is an endeavor that brings forth imagination. For instance here in this wonderful snow painting, Old North End Holiday Images, a name that references an area of huge, 19th and early 20th century homes near downtown Colorado Springs, we'd imagine the dedicated painter, in the spirit of Monet, braving the cold to make sketches, mapping in the outline of the house, the position of the trees, and the look of snow-laden shrubs. Au contraire!
The artist did this picture of winter from a photo of the house in summer. Why you might ask? Well, Murphy likes to look at things from an unconventional perspective, sometimes pulling whole paintings just from imagination. He compares it to being in grade school when the teacher hands out a blank piece of paper and says to draw whatever you want. He says that he doesn't mind omitting things, or adding elements that draw attention to the subject of his painting. I'll let the artist explain:
"I worked from a photo of the same home in summer with lots of sun and leaves on the trees, many shadows, etc. I added snow where I thought it would pile up and most important, omitted a single story yellow bungalow which was next door so that it did not interfere with the serenity and mood of a somewhat gloomy environment or the subject home." Lee Murphy
"Home" is what leaps out at the viewer. Not unlike in Monet's, Road to Giverny in Winter, one feels the icy bite of winter cold, made more forceful by the pale bluish skies of early evening twilight and crisp white of the newly fallen snow that covers everything. Yet, one is near, very near, to that place of warm with its yellow-orange lights shining in the windows - home. One variation in this blue and white scheme is the pale lavender of the house, which adds its own slight touch of warmth, as lavender is a color with a bit of red in it. That contrast to the frosty blue shows the artist's skill at manipulating elements in the painting to focus the viewer on the main object.
Murphy spent his adult working life, first in the military as a USAF enlisted electronics technician. During a seven year period which included three assignments, he earned not one but two degrees, a B.A. in Business and an M.A. in Management. He subsequently received a direct commission as a Medical Service Corps officer and spent the next 18 years in healthcare administration, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. His post service career was spent conducting medical audits (accreditation surveys) on a national level. Since one of Murphy's great interest was flying, he earned his private and commercial licenses with an instrument rating. With the combined backgrounds of flying and oversight, he was invited to join the board of directors of an organization which accredited air ambulance services. He spent seven years there. With aviation as such a major part of his life, it is no wonder then that he would paint this piece of a Frontier Airlines plane, which now hangs proudly in Frontier's home office.
Murphy says that he likes to paint man-made things. He also likes to paint in oils. He says, "I have tried water colors, pen and ink, charcoal, and colored pencils, but none of these gave me the results I was seeking for the purity, control and dynamic results I found with oils." His path to being an artist began while he was in the military when he sold a few pieces of his work, after having been inspired to try painting by T.V. painting guru, Bob Ross. Murphy invested in painting materials, bought instructive books and videos, and took courses when he could. One of those was in the Netherlands where English-speaking Murphy braved a five-week painting class given in Dutch. He says the instructor tolerated his presence and encouraged his drawing of still life.
Murphy is also very keen on nature. In this piece, called Alaska Is Calling, he combines his love of painting man-made things with his appreciation of beautiful natural settings. His use of light and dark here work to highlight the man-made, while showing how easily what man makes is enveloped by the wilderness. The tall dark green conifers become lost in their own thick darkness, indicating deep forests all around. The home, the steps down to the water, the little motor boat, and the float plane are all in combinations of white and yellow and as such, stand out against the backdrop of green and greenish-black woods. The comfortable house with its wide terrace, complete with shade umbrella, table and chairs, and the long series of windows that let the outside in, sits atop of steep drop off that can be navigated only by means of a stairway that leads down to the water where the primary means of transportation - a float plane - rests. The sense is of peaceful isolation and restorative relaxation in the wild.
Twilight Ride in the Garden is an apt name for a solitary bike ride in the mountainous countryside of Colorado and highlights the beauty of a very special place, The Garden of the Gods. Murphy says that Colorado "is an ideal place to live especially if you like to paint nature." His keen sense of observation of his everyday surroundings allows him to realistically represent the play of early evening light on this empty road, on the scrub brush either side of it and on the distant mountains. The famous red rocks of Colorado are shown with their shadow side facing the viewer, a more distant blue-violet hill is backed by a pale, distant, craggy ridge that is part of Pike's Peak.
Jean-Baptiste Corot, the famous 19th century French landscape painter of whom Monet say, "Corot is the father of us all," believed that one could not paint landscape without being adept at drawing the figure. It would seem that Murphy is in agreement, saying, "I purposely draw faces and figures six hours a week in real life because I have learned that it is the most difficult thing to capture accurately...On the plus side, drawing these subjects has made me a better artist. It forces me to intensely focus on shapes, edges, proportions, shadows, etc..." It is certain that working on ever improving his ability to capture what he sees and to make decisions about what works best to convey what he wishes, only works to further the career of his "golden years" through gallery representation, awards, and commissions.
"Art has brought me a great deal of pleasure in many settings.The awards earned are easy measures of one's success. Being accepted into various organizations and obtaining signature status is another accolade. My only complaint was not getting an earlier start in art...But you work with what you have and strive for improvement in every endeavor." Lee Murphy
Here he is in action, taking part in a plein air painting session.
Murphy's work is shown in Gallery 113 in downtown Colorado Springs.