7 min read

murph phi is inspired by his challenge

the multidisciplinary artist creates to instill pride and confidence throughout his community, encourage freedom in expression and promote healthier relationships with self
murph phi is inspired by his challenge

murph phi. is a director, art teacher, multidisciplinary artist  from richmond, va currently based in new york city. murph maintains his artistic focus on identity and representation fusing diasporic responses and interpretations to social anxieties, shared cultures mixed with emotion from personal lifestyle and experience as palette to present a unique style of work that uses the aesthetics of lifestyle and street photography as an approach to telling real stories of community, process and creation.

murph, widely known for being the “outspoken artist" gained popularity in nyc during the pandemic by building a vast archive of candid stills in chelsea and soho art spaces through exhibition photography paired chilling images of an empty new york as the world sat in suspense.

phi’s catalogue of works is aimed to instill pride and confidence throughout his community, encourage freedom in expression and promote healthier relationships with self.

interview conducted by primitives community lead: @sydneyia

what's your story and how'd you get into making art? what was the first piece you made?

i grew up in the country,  we were rural, so i didn't see much city life. i wasn't exposed to any art scene – just woods and playing outside. so the only culture i absorbed was through family and magazines.

my primary  introduction to art was through the camera, by way of my mom. my mom used to record all of our vacations on a vhs camcorder, and i was a mama's boy, so i stayed around the camera with her.

i also grew into really liking magazines. i used to draw everything i saw in magazines and that turned into painting when i was around 12. and i started painting when i was in church. i got introduced to a lot of stuff in church because their programs were focused on the youth.  my first piece of art was an etching that i made and it was hung up at vcc mall through a local company that supports the arts, ukrop’s. they invest in the art scene and would showcase the artwork of elementary school kids in the area — it was a kind of big deal. i started to understand that you can make work for other people to enjoy. that grew into me really liking museums. my family eventually moved to the suburbs and going to museums became something i did after school and sports.

going back to photography, i was the person in my friend group that took all the photos and i didn't care to be in pictures myself. in high school i always tried to take good photos of groups of my friends and that turned into going out on my own when i had free time and taking street photos and back home in nature and the trees. and then as i grew up i started to help some friends of mine who rap direct videos. that's when i got to understand leadership and take art and creative direction seriously.

that’s a really nice progression you've made. and in terms of community, do you have a specific one or a few within the art world?

honestly, i stayed away from any traditional art world scene. i was anti-establishment, anti-us agenda for historical and cultural purposes. and as a black american that's kind of  where our history is, in institutions that don't belong to us. so i never really agreed with the institution and how they operate and why they do. but that is where the good art is, and how you can learn about and understand artists. so i stayed somewhat close to art gallery scenes, but as an outsider looking in and trying to understand it.

i got into some fine art scenes through a fashion venture that i had in 2020 with my friend, sydney foster. i was helping her direct some shoots throughout new york, alabama, and atlanta. we were shooting in front of an art gallery and they hit us up and she got signed and i started working with them as well.

a few relationships early on put me in the art scene in brooklyn where i was shooting for some independent art shows. these shows featured strong artists, but this is where they got away from the galleries to show their more creative and expressive work. a few people within that scene had gallery ties and i ended up directing for a few galleries.

i do have a photography community and a fashion community though. i just venture around and don't really have a limit to what i would explore as far as any community.

i want to go back to something you said earlier. can you expand on what it’s like to be a black american artist?

well visibility plays a big part of being an artist and being black. to be seen by people who are younger than me and look up to me creates a greater sense of representation that i care to foster.

for us, it’s important to have superheroes and people that will go out on a limb and express things that people suppress. being that a lot of us practice art but aren't in communities that can touch a lot of people, it's important to have at least one influential and impactful person in your corner and to get guidance from others who tell their stories.

i'm proud to be an artist and i'm proud to be a black artist. i'm proud of the challenge that i give myself — it pushes me and keeps me inspired. i inspire myself.

i think you inspire so many people though, because it seems like you've  built a really beautiful sense of mentorship with others too. i think that you are that person to many. i can tell.

i'll take that. i'd rather other people say that, but i can acknowledge that. my brother is here, he vouches for that statement.

haha i second, it! so in short, what does being a creator or creative mean to you?

it changes. and the language of what it means changes, but the energy stays the same. lately i've been saying the art that we create has the same energy as the stories of the mythical god's creating miracles because art can change people's lives.

in a gallery of 200 people, lives can be changed with art. there’s a similar impact in these historical stories, but life is condensed. think of a godly action, like moving a building, no one can really do that, but you can move a crowd when you can redirect people and create your own time space out of nothing more than a thought and in turn, a masterpiece. it brings people together in a beautiful way.

i'm proud to be an artist and i'm proud to be a black artist. i'm proud of the challenge that i give myself — it pushes me and keeps me inspired. i inspire myself.

how do you approach your fine art work?

to be honest, in my eyes i haven’t created a fine art series yet. so everything i've done is studying and practicing. i don't think i’ve produced anything with the intention of having a reaction. a lot of times it's me reacting. so if i'm approaching  a canvas, it's because i felt or saw something that was  super inspiring.

right now i'm sitting in front of a piece i'm working on and everything that i think about goes into the image. but then i change it 20 times before i even say it is halfway done or show it to someone. it might have started as a portrait but ended up being a landscape that i thought was gonna be an abstract piece that i wiped all out.

does that differ with photography or do you think of those two similarly?

nah, photography is more intentional. i usually buy film, and when i'm testing the film, i'm shooting something conceptually adjacent to what i'm getting booked for next. i'll shoot for research. for example if i'm shooting a dance recital, i'll go to the location prior and take candid photos of them to study the movements. i do it for myself and i just want to impress the client too.

i take intentional approaches in photography, but everything else i'm trying to relate my experience to other people.

"keys of life" by murph phi

what do you hope people feel when they see your work?

i do want people to understand that they can be free. that's my intention. that they can be free to think whatever and to be whatever. i wish to encourage others to feel, believe, and trust that they are enough. if i can give people an opportunity to value themselves, it can be noticed elsewhere and influence others

can i ask how you felt about primitives when you first used the platform? if you had any initial thoughts, what were they?

i was definitely intrigued. i was interested to see how it could disconnect people from social media and i think it hit it. it was knocked it out the park for that.


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