Karen Murphy: A Starry Night in Her Own Right


Karen Murphy is a local artist who lives in Shandon, Columbia, South Carolina, with her husband, Larry Rhu, a Professor in the English Department at the University of South Carolina, her two children, Sarah and Danny, and her countless artworks. Her one-woman art show was hosted recently by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Midlands, here in Columbia, SC. She is currently the owner and operator of her one-woman business enterprise, “Karen’s Green Garden Care.” On February 29, 2016, she agreed to an interview with Gloria Talcove-Woodward, a long-time admirer of her work. We both hope you enjoy this project.

  1. How would you describe the kind of art that you make?  Whimsical, playful, somewhere between folk art and fine art.
  2. What is your favorite medium and why?  That depends.  I draw a lot  in blank journals everywhere I go.  However, at the moment, I’m making robots and spaceships out of doodads I’ve collected through the years: nuts and bolts, coins, bottle caps, candy wrappers…
  3. How and/or why did you begin to make art?  I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid.
  4. What are your three favorite pieces of your own art and why?  For a while I was making shadow boxes and one morphed into a bar in Spain.  A sleepy cat was having a drink at the bar while an asymmetrical man was getting down on the grand piano.  Second, a drawing of a rushing river with ghostly birds under a tree full of living birds.  Third, a funky robot I made just recently.
  5. How do you know when a piece is really finished?  I have to be careful not to overwork a piece.  At a certain point I make myself put my work out of sight so I don’t ruin it.  Some of my best sketches took very little time to complete.
  6. What kind of reaction from people who experience your art makes you the happiest? and/or the saddest?  A knowing smile.  I feel disappointed when people don’t take a good look.
  7. Where do you get your ideas for your art?  Each new idea feels like a gift.  It’s a mysterious process.
  8. How do you deal with criticism?  It used to bother me but now I don’t expect everyone to “get” my work.  Instead I delight in people who are drawn to it.
  9. What are your favorite tools for making your art?  At the moment I  am in love with my hot glue gun.  Some former loves include Williamsburg oil paints and Kolinsky brushes, but in the end I always return to messing around with found objects.  They sit better with my miserly inner critic.
  10. Who are your favorite three artists?  Just three?  I have a thing for the Expressionist painters, Emil Nolde and Wassily Kandinsky.  And I love the way the American sculptor and printmaker Jonathan Borofsky defies boundaries.
  11. Which three artists would you like to be compared with?  The problem with being compared with other artists is that it feels reductive, like being accused of imitation.  That said, when viewers say my night sky drawings remind them of Van Gogh, what’s not to like?
  12. What is your favorite art movement (hyper-realism, surrealism, impressionism, post-modern, funk-pop, etc.)?  I love just about anything from the Art and Crafts movement.
  13. When are you most creatively productive?  Past my bedtime.
  14. What do you think of the difference between what you want to express and the viewer’s interpretation?  I think it is okay for  viewers to interpret work their own way, but my heart rises when they express an understanding of what I am trying to do.
  15. Do you collect anything? If so, what and why?  Let’s see.  Looking around my room there is a box labeled “Shiny, happy paper,” rocks, tesserae, wire of many colors, marbles, broken toys, bird houses,  nests, postcards, feathers, boxes…
  16. What is your favorite book and why?  I love the “Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver, because it shows how a good story can create new interest in distance injustices (in this case, how American media made a tyrant look like an ally).
  17. What’s the one piece of art from any other artist from any time period whatsoever that you could look at forever?  The Chrysler Building in New York City.
  18. What is your pet peeve with the art world?  Pretentiousness.
  19. What’s the one art show you saw that really surprised you?  In the early 80s I was quite delighted to stumble upon a Calder exhibit at the Whitney Museum in NYC.  I’d been doing a lot of wire sculptures when he was showing his famous “Circus.” Legend has it that when the curator met him at the airport and asked about how he’d shipped his work, he pulled out a roll of metal wire.  It was stored in his imagination.
  20. Where do you see your art going? Is it evolving, changing directions, becoming more eclectic, etc.?  It began flat, mostly drawings and collage.  Now it’s becoming three dimensional, sculpture with mixed media, including an art car.
  21. How and why did your begin your Art Car Project and what is its current status? I was inspired by the Button Man’s car that I saw at the State Museum. Shortly afterwards, I was talking about it with my cousin in North Carolina, who needed to find a home for his extra car and he sold me his Chevy Nova for $1. As soon as it found its way into the driveway, I started painting it. It was in the Mardi Gras Parade here in Columbia in 2013. It’s now been four years and my husband would like to have our driveway back. I’m hoping to either sell the car or donate it to ETV. It’s a 1988 and with a little TLC, it could run again, art and all.
  22. Got a picture of the Art Car? I thought you’d never ask!
  23. GetAttachment
  24. A quick recap of your work history.   I’ve had a couple of art teaching gigs but my longest period of employment was teaching fourth grade.  Fortunately, I was able to use art to teach history, reading, and math.  I used to let my students draw when I read aloud to them because it helped them focus and listen.  Afterwards they’d show me these wonderful cartoons they had created.  I have vivid memories of their illustrations of Greek myths.  Now I design, plant, and restore gardens.


Filed under Interviews

2 responses to “Karen Murphy: A Starry Night in Her Own Right

  1. Jean

    This is so good! I just love all of Karen’s answers.


  2. Pingback: Karen Murphy: A Starry Night in Her Own Right – artsdrafts4u

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