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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Todd Murphy

Chicago born, well known Atlanta artist, Todd Murphy has been on my mind for quite sometime.  It all started in 2005 while searching the web. I became facinated with his work.  Then in September 2006 my issue of Tradtional Home arrived in the mail and a full blown obsession begin over this image:

I begin hunting down everything I could on this man.  I knew realistically I would not likely be able to afford an original work, but I couldn't help myself from pursuing information.  Perhaps there was something smaller.  Once, there was.  I called the gallery.  Sold.

Then yesterday, everything changed.   Restoration Hardware catalogue, favorite retailer to many, came in the mail.  I gathered it in my reading stack for the night and headed upstairs.  I casually flipped it open and it came to rest here:

I must admit, I was thrilled upon recognizing Mr. Murphy's work immediately, and then disappointment quickly followed.  I was thrilled that this man's work that I had long admired, was now attainable. But, also disappointed that it was being reproduced and was now so very available. 

I think it is one thing to have furniture pieces and accessories show up repeatedly in various interiors.  Including on occasion, a friend or client's home.  I have learned to be comfortable with this fact of design, and believe these items are often transitional and adapt to the style of the room and the individual.

But artwork?  I am thinking that is quite different.  It is personal.  It is to be appreciated and admired.  Artwork in the style of Mr. Murphy's not only makes a statement, but has a very distinct look.  I have heard him referred to as "the dress artist" because of his beautiful dress creations.  The first time I ever saw the TH image, it had a profound impact.  It was emotional.  I found it to be haunting, seductive and mythical. I showed it to my sister and a few friends. Each one had a different reaction.  None described it the way I saw it.  Some did not care for it. But, I truly loved it.

                                          Metropolitan Home-March 2008

Has retail gone too far?  This has distracted me all day.  I am so conflicted.  I would love to own a work of art by Mr. Murphy, but do I really want to see something that I perceive as personal on the walls of so-and-so's living room?  Please use this post as an opportunity to express yourself and help me sort this out....


  1. This is so thought provoking! I have a bit of a problem when a piece of furniture, that I love (or even possibly owned) becomes mass produced...but then I often buy these very pieces as well... as for art, I would be quite upset with the artist for diluting his name (brand?) if I owned an I see your point. I agree with you, and then I see it from the artist's perspective and the retailers perspective etc. Like I said, very thought provoking! And, his work IS gorgeous!

  2. Oh my gosh...I love Todd Murphy! I wanted to buy one of his dress painting about 3 years ago and he had stopped painting the dress subject.

    He is amazing and still want one of his dresses! Thank you so much for the reminder!

  3. Oh I read your post further and totally agree. i do not want something massed produced. You and I think alike. I was looking at the Restoration Hardware catalog today and thought that they had taken so many good, unique design ideas and mass produced them. I am getting ready to do a blog entry about that. Stay tuned.

  4. Here's a thought that might be helpful - "do I really want to see something I perceive as personal to be on..." If you reframe how you define personal; not that it is personal because there is only one of them but personal because of how you relate to the art, you may find you don't mind others have a "relationship" with the copy they bought.

    Here's a sad, funny & true story. Two weeks before graduating from college I went to a poster store in the mall. They mostly carried rock bands, etc but did have a few art prints and I fell in love with a print of a beautiful garden. I was excited to hang it in the apt I was moving to. A few days after I hung it a friend came over and said, "Love that Monet." I did not know that I purchased a reproduction print of one of Monet's Giverny scenes!! I knew I didn't have the only one but I didn't realize pretty much the whole world loved it too.

  5. I won't address the even larger issue of knock-offs and mass produced antique "replicas" turned trendy. I think that is a whole different ball game. Here, I think the issue is an artist potentially diluting his brand for the sake of mass sales.

    To that point, I think I probably have an unpopular position. I don't like it, but I get it.

    The professional artist is trying to sell as many paintings as possible. This is, presumably, not merely a hobby. I think, when you achieve a certain amount of popularity or a following, to be afforded the opportunity to sell your authentic work and control what copies are offered by at least one major retailer, it's hard to pass up.

    I think an artist approached by a retailer like RH can either make the choice to sell at RH thereby getting his name and look out there for more people to recognize, or alternatively, he watches RH try to reproduce his look/style. We've all seen it done. We may not be on board, but it is a reality.

    And consider this, taking an artist (that isn't wildly popular or well known among the masses) mainstream can actually catapult the popularity and worth of his works. Perhaps not of those that are available at RH, but certainly of those that have been specially commissioned or otherwise produced individually. I guess to me, this decision tells me quite a bit about about the artist who chooses to go this route. Certainly disappointing if we think we know this artist's position and what he/she is motivated by or stands for...

    Now if Wolf Kahn's work shows up at Pottery Barn, I won't know what to think...

    Go buy one, Rebecca. Enjoy it. You'll love that you have it and it will look entirely different in your space than anyone else's. This could be a great opportunity to have a work that otherwise may have been unavailable to you...

  6. I see your point and if I really loved his art and suddenly found that it was accessible to me, I would be happy about it personally! Velvet & Linen has had this conversation on her blog too about Restoration Hardware, I need to get their catalogue and take a look!

  7. This is a very provocative question and some very interesting points of view. That is something art does - it provokes - and I think it says something for Todd Murphy's body of work.

    There is nothing more beautiful and personal than an original piece of artwork. Some of us are lucky to acquire originals. Many of us will never own one. I find it pretty swell when many of us can own a copy, print, reproduction, whatever, and I think that it then becomes personal in the way we display it. Has retail gone too far? Probably, but, in ways far worse than an artist's reproductions. Here is something that someone can own that isn't original but does reflect one's taste. The original will always exist and others will enjoy lovely works.

    I respect your disappointment and understand it, however, I am probably in the minority, but, think if you like it, buy it, display, talk about it and spread the appreciation of art that way, for now at least.

    I do want to thank you for this post. Great comments on a stimulating question.

    Buy it.

  8. These comments are so insightful!

    Maria, I do recall the V&L post and I believe it was related to furniture. This post is specifically about artwork. RH does have beautiful things, so if you have never seen their catalogue, be sure to get you hands on one!

    Hope to hear the opinions of many more....

  9. I think I would just be happy to afford his work and enjoy my own reproduction. Beauty is beauty, even when it is shared with the masses. And this painting is a beauty.

  10. I do think that some artists "sell out" and it is easier to make mass market productions of their originals. I can understand limited small editions, the masters of printmaking have done that for centuries!

    Art by Karena

  11. I'm generally OK with retail making the formerly unattainable, attainable. There's something to be said for democratizing art and design. That said though, I'll admit that it's more fun to own something one-off than mass produced.

  12. I love this thought provoking conversation! I think it is nice to recognize an artist but if I were investing a goodly sum, I would want it to be my own. I love the dress in the entry with the harlequin floor!

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  14. A dilemma. As a designer, I advocate custom in everthing I do for myself or a client. I always choose an original if my client's budget will allow. I can certainly understand any artist "making it big" in retail. I think a possible solution is to do one painting, similar in styling, for ONE retail market, RH or Pottery Barn...whatever....but NEVER to copy any original works that are already completed. I don't know if that is what Murphy did, but I suspect so. Hopefully, he won't decide to mass produce too many of his works, and never reproduce an original. I'm pragmatic enough to understand the need to make a living, but he runs the risk of diluting his name....think Liberty of London prints for Target that are on everyone ones' blogs this week. Same issue. When it reaches the national chains, it's no good for the custom market....tis life.

  15. Wonderful!! I had saved a few pictures of Murphy's work on my computer for several months because I so like his work!!

  16. Interesting post, and interesting comments. I have a friend who is very close with Todd, and I was hoping to do an interview with him for my blog. But he is a bit illusive!

    From what I understand, he used to sell at a gallery in Atlanta, but went out on his own - with no gallery representation. I would see some of his work here and there after the gallery split, and private collectors knew how to access him.

    I have seen his work in private homes, and most recently have seen the new series of photographs (one of which was at the Trinity market, as Blayne mentioned).

    The Restoration Hardware phenomenon is an interesting one, as it is truly shaping some aspects of design right now. Good design is becoming accessible to so many now. Overall, I think this is a great thing. I remember growing up with Calder, Matisse, Rothko, and Lichtenstein prints - purchased at museum shops and framed. My parents loved the work of these artists, but clearly could not have original works by them. I loved having these works gracing the walls of my childhood home, and it had a profound effect on me - original or not!

    So, I think it is fine, and even good. I wonder if your concern is that having Todd Murphy at RH makes his art more decorative wall hanging than art. That is a risk. Does it devalue the original work? That is an even bigger risk. It might increase the value, it might not. It might make the work more commercial. All interesting things to ponder on a Sunday morning.

  17. love the ballet outfit picture... have a nice sunday!

  18. Very interesting comments, but what about people without the means to own original art. Should all works of art be in museums or owned by the wealthyor heads of state?
    I am in love with "the Rev. Robert Walker Skating on Dudlingston Lock" by Sir Henry Raeburn. I have looked lovingly at this print on my wall for 30 years. I have seen it in magazines and in open houses and even on tv shows but I still feel a sense of ownership and also some pride in my own good taste whenever I get an unexpected look at this wonderful painting.
    Art is for everybody even those who cannot afford it. Thank you for turning me on to Mr. Murphy's work. I love it too.

  19. Wow, these comments are all very good and insightful. I enjoyed reading this and feel the same way you do, I was disappointed to see art is masses. That dress picture actually has the same effect on me as it did on you!

  20. These artists are not selling out...they are surviving! Buy your piece and enjoy it. Make it your own in your environment. I say congrats to Todd Murphy for getting their attention over at RH and making the deal. It is a business!!!

  21. Having many artist friends...some more starving than others...I agree with Diane above. They are surviving...getting their art out. Paying the bills. Kudos to the deal for him!

  22. I see both sides but I do think it is sad that you can't have any thing original today. Everything is being mass produced and nothing seems unique any more. Sad...

  23. I don't understand why people think that if they are not rich, they can not own original art? There are plenty of exceptional artists work around if one can take the time to learn something about art. Todd Murphy was not always so commercially popular was he? Who was buying his work before his success? Buy original even if it is work on paper and not oil on canvas. Leave reproductions for magazines and books.

  24. great post and insightful comments. personally i struggle with the 'design for the masses' phenom.
    as an independent shop owner i scour far and wide for original, individual pieces only to find the like reproduced and at half the cost.
    it is a conflict.....i am a consumer too and not everything in my home is original, loving a mix.
    on the other hand who has not found an original something for a client only to see a knock off in RH, PB and the likes? the client is disappointed and no longer finds their piece to be special.
    i would like to share a conversation i had with a manufacturer designing for RH. I asked them how they could sell so much of their line to them? the reply?
    "we were told that if we did not work with them they would knock us off...we had no choice" could this have been the case with todd murphy?

  25. loved this post rebecca- and comments too. i'm torn myself & can't type enough now so we'll chat about it

  26. I also have mixed feelings on this very topic. RH is making the artwork accessible to the masses and then does it somehow devalue it? I am not sure. It is wonderful that the masses can enjoy beautiful reproductions and as such perhaps they gain a greater appreciation for the original?! Interesting points to ponder. His work is lovely though...

  27. I absolutely love Todd Murphy's style it's so beautiful! I think retail has gone too far, when art is mass produced I feel that it loses some of it's feel.

  28. I am so very appreciative for each and every person who took the time to share their thoughts and perspectives on this topic.

    Wonderful, intelligent insights from some very savvy people!

  29. His work without question is amazing, and I was moved the same way as you by his work.

    I feel that if you can afford an original by any artist, that would be the first way to go, without question... But, for the many that can not, owning a print, a copy or a reproduction is the next best thing. They have been being produced for years now, they are everywhere, some artists are more known than others (like Monet). If you look at even some of the art say at Ballard Designs, they are copies of artists work. Though, if you don't know the artist you may not have the same reaction. I say good for the artists for getting recognition (especially when alive, seems so many become famous after they have passed) and giving people the opportunity to own something that moves them and makes them happy to own.

    I would think (though I am not sure on this) that having this sort of fame, would in fact make the artist's original work all the more valuable.

    Buy what you love! :)

    Great post, and enjoyed reading everyone's opinions.

  30. As an artist, I think we all struggle to find a market, to maintain originality yet achieve some sort of "living" - I guess I sort of like the part that artists can become "stars" of interior spaces. I can see the attraction to his work. This would make me want an original even more.
    The art works in those spaces, the dark against the light. I wish you had bought one before RH got hold. Just shows you have an "eye" dear and that you are ahead of your time.

  31. As the owner of a Todd Murphy painting (from a series of work he did just before he did the dress series), I have to say that I find this development *extremely* disheartening. It cheapens everything he has done before or will do in the future.

  32. As another owner of a Todd Murphy painting I am conflicted. I purchased a swan painting over 16 years ago that moved me completely. There is not a day when I don't enjoy it. The fact that more people can enjoy it is probably a good reason for him to do this. (and $) I'm not sure it cheapens his work. It allows more people to experience it. Well deserved.


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