Sunday, July 24, 2016

Bill Murphy's Haunted Enchantment of Staten Island

For those uninitiated into the world of printmaking, there are techniques one must master before one can truly portray an image to arrest our gaze and make us say, 'Oh My God, how did the artist do That!' Well, I am here to tell you that New York printmaker Bill Murphy is one of those artists. His work is simply…Amazing. It is not so much the technique of his work that astounds the viewer, although his line is often perfection itself.

In today’s art world full of all manner of the conceptual, and flashy installations, I truly appreciate an artist who knows how to draw. Murphy’s lines, Every Single One of them, have presence and purpose in his compositions. There isn’t an erroneous mark anywhere. His lines come out of the cosmos and coalesce into an object, or depict the air itself. His study of the Manhattan Bridge shows us how he sees the subject and how his lines come together to construct the image. It’s simply terrific.

The mood of Murphy‘s haunting pieces are stark, lonely, watchful of a place where no one moves about, but we know someone had been there before us to create buildings, bridges, houses and ships. He describes a place where people have lived and lived well. They have left something behind for the next generation to live with, to admire and let us think of the past generations that toiled and worked and helped weave the fabric of our existence and how we live today.

Murphy walks through his environment on Staten Island and chooses places that are near and dear to him; the shipyards, the streets of his neighborhood, the vistas he sees across the river looking toward New York City, Brooklyn and Coney Island. He shows us abandoned shipyards, ships anchored in dock, a lonely little alley between abandoned warehouses at night and emptied out industrial yards. All of his chosen places are charmed and enchanted in a way that similarly described compositions by Edward Hopper would leave us cold and unengaged. Murphy’s work engages us and draws us into his world, and we are left begging, pleading, to see more.

There is something reminiscent in Murphy’s work of the light found in Canaletto and Rembrandt’s prints. Murphy analyzes his objects, and draws them with an equal measure of objectivity and passion, but the light in his works sing and bring us an understanding of the subject on a spiritual level. These prints are not mere descriptions of places, but timeless encounters with ourselves; they help us to mark our place in time.

One can’t easily forget an encounter with Murphy’s work. It leaves a lingering taste in our mouths, the quiet but distinct sound of horns can be heard from boats in the harbor and one can hear the sounds of cars driving over glistening, rain-soaked streets; all of it leaving a lasting impression burned into our eyes, and into our memories.

This artist’s work is an eloquent testimony of the place he loves most. His personalized view of Staten Island translates to us, via his line and ink, and makes us want to make a pilgrimage to these noble sites. If we do, maybe we can truly experience the wonder of such a place, and find a little bit of printmaking heaven.

Bill Murphy was born on Staten Island, in New York, in 1952. He attended Brooklyn College, the School of Visual Arts (B.F.A.), The Art Students League, and Vermont College (MFA). He has taught art at Wagner College on Staten Island, New York.

His work is included in several public collections, including:
The British Museum, The Brooklyn Museum, The Denver Art Museum, Hofstra University, The Library of Congress, The New York Historical Society, The New York Public Library, and the Syracuse University Museum.

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