interview | michael murphy

It’s all about perspective, and sculptor Michael Murphy continues to prove it. He’s been mastering perceptual art for the past 22 years, producing works that take on different forms depending on where the viewer stands. 

His most recent work, War Machine, debuted at Into Action, an artist/activist pop-up exhibition. At first glance, the viewer saw the shape of an American flag. Upon closer inspection, the viewer found the flag had been formed through individually hung 3D printouts of military crafts, government contracting firms and media conglomerates, and each star had been labeled with the names of various congressmen who have received money from lobbyists. When viewed from the side, the work formed a giant dollar sign. 

“I want to show the world an example of a situation without making a direct or heavy handed statement—the viewers come up with their own conclusion about the topics, based on the work,” he said. 

Murphy’s ongoing collaborations with widely recognized brands like Nike, NBC Universal and FX have generated a a rabid global following. Murphy's commercial success has granted him the freedom to explore passion projects such as War Machine - those which bring human rights to the forefront of mainstream conversation. The artist hopes his use of perspective will evoke critical thinking, a skill that may bear an inverse correlation to the advancement of modern society. In a world so rife with distraction, there exists no room for contemplation.

While most of Murphy’s subtle messages are relayed to his satisfaction, one stands out for its ambiguous nature—the very one that led to Murphy’s work being featured on the cover of Time magazine in 2012. 

Murphy first started shaping portraits of Barack Obama in 2007, employing the use of perspective to suggest how Obama’s persona had been crafted by the media. It can be argued that the average American citizen is at a complete disadvantage when it comes to political knowledge and is at the mercy of the media. Each opinion is built with acquired information from any number of media outlets, but rarely through direct experience. 

The portrait was well received in the public sector as a work promoting Obama’s platform of change. Murphy was eventually commissioned to create several works for Manifest Hope, a show that featured the work of artists that had helped Obama win the presidential election. 

Murphy has evolved to channel his messages a bit more blatantly, leading to one of his post popular works, Identity Crisis, which depicts the continental United States fashioned out of toy guns. The work was designed to stimulate conversation regarding the nation’s efforts to normalize violence.

“One of my motivations is to sift through everything around us and figure out what’s important. Every time a piece inspires someone to think more deeply… I see that as a win,” he said. 

While Murphy’s next passion project may be a few months away, his neurons are forever firing, fueling an endless list of ideas with the topic of net neutrality as a frontrunner. The work will speak on the commodification of a person’s online presence by forming a physical identity out of their search history. 

While awaiting the next thought-provoking piece, it is best to take a page from Murphy’s book and “run with it.” Place your routine on hold. Set aside some time to reflect on the issues facing our nation. You might walk away with a different perspective.

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words by carter