observing life: Julie Murphy

our new location in Chicago's West Loop features a breathtaking mural featuring a flurry of colors + characters breathing life into the city which is cast as the landscape to the piece. The mural, completed by local artist Julie Murphy, is a tribute to Chicago's eclectic, diverse, lively + wholly unique culture and serves as the perfect anchor to our first-ever Chicago location. We sat with Julie to learn more about what inspires these lively designs, how she brings them to life via animation + what her view is on Chicago's landscape (both artistically + politically)…

hg:  you describe yourself as a lifelong ‘doodler’ — what interests you in the realm of art + creativity? What motivates these doodles, which sometimes turn into larger pieces?

julie:  I doodle obsessively. I like to draw faces, cryptic creatures + animals, as well as abstract designs. I feel as if my best characters evolve when I’m drawing while thinking about something else, listening to music, a podcast or audiobook.

"The process seems to channel the subconscious. I learn about what’s happening in my mind."

And my hand knows how to translate what is trickling out of the mind without focusing on it. The raw material for these drawings is just living life + observing people. But these drawings later need some serious editing and compositional reworking if I choose to make them into a larger piece of work, and want to include some architecture or sense of place. For me, composition and design require more brain cells if a narrative has any hope of emerging from the cast of characters. Otherwise, I just draw one character after another in space like a frustrated casting director.

hg:  apart from illustration, you’ve also worked with various forms of mixed media, including stop-motion. Which format do you prefer as an artist + why?

julie:  my favorite medium is pen on paper. Completely analog. I tend to work very small + detailed. I went through a printmaking phase and got hooked on etching. I like the obsessive yet improvisational process. When I’m feeling experimental, I do like to mix it up to keep things interesting by trying to incorporate paint, sculpture, collage, and motion. And animation is a creative challenge that satisfies that obsessive instinct. I like to blend hand-drawn stop-motion with digital editing.

hg:  what motivated you to bring your illustrations to life via stop-motion or animation?

julie:  I’ve been interested in motion since I was a kid. In the early years, I drew improvised “film strips” using a scroll of paper, two pencils, a box and a soundtrack recorded on cassette tape. Inspired by early music videos, I tried to shoot a music video and choreographed a dance sequence to Michael Jackson’s “You Wanna Be Starting Something” on my parents’ Super 8 camera. Sadly, I never developed the film. As a student at Northwestern University in the Radio/TV/Film department, I combined my interest in art and film by making some stop-motion experimental music videos for a local band. So, today, it weirdly feels like home to play around with animation. It is my comfort zone of experimentation.

hg:  your work has been displayed in various cities outside of Chicago, including Seoul. Which of these group shows are you most proud of? Are there any locations where you’d love to show your work next?

julie:  two group shows stick out in my memory banks as being especially influential to me:

  • When I graduated from art school, I was asked to participate in a group show called “Tall Stories,” at the Wignall Gallery at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, featuring nine other artists who either taught at or attended Art Center College of Design. I was just starting out and all of these artists were much more established than me, and it felt really great to be in their company. Now I look at the work everybody from that show is doing today and it blows my mind.
  • In 2015 I participated in “Mother Popcorn,” a 4-person group show at the Webb Gallery in Waxahachie, TX with three artists who I admire so much: Esther Pearl Watson, Martha Rich and Nancy Mladenoff. It was an honor to show work alongside these three creative forces. The Webb Gallery is the rarest of jewels—an art gallery that feels, when you walk in, like you’ve entered the portal into another land. We all attended the show and had a great time seeing the local sights, attending a rodeo, eating delicious food, drinking mezcal and laughing at everything. It was memorable.

I would love to show my work more outside of the country—Europe, South America, Asia—I like to travel! In the the US, I’d love to have a show in New Orleans. I like the spirit there.

hg:  you’re the co-president of the ICON10 conference, which takes place in July 2018 in Detroit. Tell us a bit more about how you got involved with ICON as well as what the goals of the conference are…

julie:  the third time I attended ICON The Illustration Conference, in Portland Oregon, I answered a call for entry for attendees to submit a six minute storytelling slide presentation. I had been working for six years at a corporate, administrative day job and I decided that it was a good idea to put myself out there despite feeling extreme public speaking anxiety. Of course, I applied for this thinking that I’ll never get selected. Well, I was one of four attendees chosen to present my story, “Cubelandia,” in front of 700 conference attendees. In short, I talked about making artwork about office life with office supplies while on the job and how the work ended up becoming the material for a solo drawing exhibition sponsored by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

It must have been well-received, because soon after I was nominated to be the workshop chair on the board of ICON9 by Esther Pearl Watson, who was the president at the time. It was a phenomenal experience—like putting on a giant musical or theatrical production. Two years of planning and production for four days of speakers, workshops, shows, parties, exhibitions, symposiums, etc. I highly recommend that illustrators attend. In a nutshell, the goal of ICON is to bring together illustrators, designers, art directors + creative people to discuss, explore, investigate + shape the future of illustration. It’s a truly fun event—a great way to network, meet fellow illustrators from around the globe, and learn something new.

I’m really happy to be co-President of ICON10 with art director Len Small. It’s a great challenge in every way and the learning curve is steep. It’s an all-volunteer board and program, so it is a labor of love.

hg:  how active is the Chicago art scene? Do you engage with other illustrators/artists in the area regularly? Who are some local artists that you draw inspiration from or admire?

julie:  there’s a large artist scene in Chicago, though it does seem somewhat fragmented, however, that might be my perception and not reality. It feels as if Chicago has more of a fine art slant than illustration. I moved back to Chicago after 11 years in Los Angeles, so I felt like an outsider when I first moved back. Attending art events, I got to know a wide assortment of artists, from street artists to comic book enthusiasts, which was cool. When I first moved back to Chicago, artist Tony Fitzpatrick was very helpful to me in introducing me to a lot of local creative types. A dedicated social “free agent,” I tend to stay away from cliques, in general. Artists are such hard workers, and often very comfortable spending many hours alone, and I am no exception. I do share a studio with fellow artist, Sarah Conner, who I’ve known since Northwestern days, and though she works more in the day and I work at night, it’s always nice to hang in the studio + share ideas.

Stylistically, I’ve been inspired by the Chicago Imagists as well as the public art that I pass while walking, such as Calder’s “Flamingo” and Chagall’s “Four Seasons” mosaic mural on Monroe + Dearborn. As much as I enjoy looking at art, I tend to draw inspiration from hearing live music, salsa dancing, cycling, walking, and people watching. I’m the very rare artist who actually likes watching sports.

"I’m motivated and inspired by observing life."

My multitude of day-jobs have also provided rich fodder for art.

hg:  even though Chicago is continually on the rise as a city, there are still pockets of despair and room for improvement. How do you feel this, coupled with the current political climate, further empowers artists in the city to express themselves through whatever their medium may be?


"Life without art leads to despair."

I was privileged to attend public schools with robust arts education and the arts have been a part of my life since childhood. This might be naive, but I believe that arts education and access to art—visual art, music, dance, writing, theater is one important key to healing impoverished, marginalized communities. I have a few artist friends who work with Urban Gateways, an organization that provides arts programming to some underserved schools. I admire them so much. They’re making a difference.

In this country, there is an emphasis on doing something only because it will lead to a career. Studying art is not a wasted pursuit. It opens the mind to possibilities. It’s not a luxury, but a necessity. In the current political climate, we need art and humor more than ever to cut through the bullshit and spin and speak the truth as well as bring beauty to the ugliness that we see and hear every day in the political landscape. When I do make political art, I admit that it’s therapy for me. But when all artists exercise their right to free speech, we can and do make a difference, collectively. It’s essential that we all work to protect free speech.

hg:  you’re the featured artist for our new hgFultonMarket spot! Tell us a bit about what inspired the colorful, lively design featured in the restaurant + what you hope the piece conveys to the guests:

julie:  I wanted this piece to communicate my love for Chicago. I find Chicago to be stunningly beautiful, particularly near the river, bridges + lake. A dedicated night owl, I wanted to specifically evoke the feeling of walking downtown on one of those sparkly summer nights where people are out and about, the vibe is lively and music is everywhere. Those nights when the people, architecture, trains, buses and bicycles share a strong connection. The magical creatures and characters represent the wide variety of individuals in Chicago, all living together + making it work. We do endure some grey, dour late winter months when the city can feel overwrought, tired, lonely and mean. I hope that guests can look at my art and remember the soft air of late spring, summer and early autumn, and feel hope and joy.

hg:  we hear you are friends with one of our Philadelphia featured artists, Martha Rich! How did you two cross paths? Do you look to each other for artistic motivation or inspiration?

julie:  Martha and I both went to school at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. Martha was a few years ahead of me. It was the second school for each of us, so we were both a little older than the average student. Teachers kept telling me that “I’ve got to meet Martha.” I was instantly drawn to her work, which was exhibited at the school gallery, so I was happy when our paths finally did cross at school and we started hanging out socially. We got along right away. Martha is hilarious. And so smart and insightful. She brings people together and is a positive force in the illustration universe. I’m still a huge admirer of Martha’s work. It is honest, authentic and a beautiful expression of herself. (editor's note: learn more about Martha Rich + her hg11thSt mural by clicking here)

hg:  where else can we find your work around Chicago? Do you have any featured content in other cities in the US?

julie:  this is my first wall-sized piece of art! I have had pieces of public art up in Chicago a few times in the past years at the Van Buren Metro stop, river walk + an exhibition at the water tower, sponsored by DCASE, but nothing currently at the moment besides this mural. My artwork is featured on the walls in the sets of Spike Lee’s feature film, Chi-Raq. I have a three-person drawing show coming up in late 2017 at a local gallery. You are welcome to visit my art studio located in Ravenswood where I have a lot of work on the walls. I do also have a web shop + Threadless artist page

follow Julie on Instagram to keep up with current projects + visit her website to view more of her work! Visit our new hgFultonMarket location to view her huge new mural in person!

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