“I’ve always worked large. It’s just in my DNA to work large,” says Davis Murphy, a Quogue artist whose supersized work can be seen worldwide. He made a 90-foot herd of thundering copper horses in De Beque, Colorado; 45-foot high paintings of pinup queen Bettie Page on yacht sails at the Miami Beach Marina; and last winter locals were agog at the sight of life-size rhinos at Ditch Plains Beach in Montauk.
For Murphy, a native of Old Greenwich who splits his time between the East End and Miami, his years of travel and using industrial materials as art have created a world of intensely personal, unorthodox visions.
He studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, focusing on classical drawing, sculpture in clay and copper, and steel welding. After Pratt, Murphy moved to Miami, making copper sculptures aboard a giant refugee boat. He co-founded Artifacts/Wet Paint, an experimental gallery, and contributed to major nightclub art environments and installations during the South Beach art explosion. Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine profiled Murphy and the co-op group as leaders of the city’s art and nightlife scene in the 1980s.
Murphy experimented combining 16th century metallurgy with modern technology welding molten bronze over intensely manipulated copper sheet. This new work birthed a visceral life-like outer “skin” supported by steel and copper armatures to create large-scale work. His metalwork caught the attention of Richard Kessler of the luxury boutique resort hotel group Kessler Collection and he commissioned Murphy to create custom copper figure art for resorts in Kessler Canyon, De Beque and Beaver Creek in Vail, Colorado, and for The Mansion on Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia.
The Running Horses was Murphy’s largest project—a 90-foot herd of running, leaping copper horses at Kessler Canyon that took three years to make on-site.
In 2012, working in fiberglass resin, Murphy tackled a life-size crash of rhinoceroses. These 12-foot-long, 250-pound sculptures were surreally captured on film by Montauk photographer Dalton Portella.
Nearing extinction and hunted for their horns that are reputed to have mythical powers, are shown as predators and victims, loners and romantics, powerful and powerless.
Shot on the rocky shores of Ditch Plains, the plaintive expression of these endangered mega fauna shows that heavy is the head that wears the horn. “They are an extreme example of sculptural form,” says Murphy, “expressing sheer weight and muscularity. It goes back to my love of tire marks on barriers on the highway, you feel the five tons of power behind it. I needed to capture the nuances of this huge piece by close contact on film. While researching the mass poaching in Africa, I was floored by the annihilation and finality the images offered. It was hard to look at them. Dalton’s photos express that possible total loss.”
Photos of the rhinos went viral and garnered international press. A show of the sculptures and photos to benefit conservation efforts is planned for 2014.
Current work includes a 20-foot carved wooden whale covered in gold leaf for a new brewery on the North Fork; and a 50-foot high sculpture of ship masts and sea life for the entrance of a major new marina in Connecticut. Murphy collaborated with Iron Chef Marc Forgione on a bronze eagle sculpture for the entrance of his new restaurant American Cut at Revel in Atlantic City.
Murphy has created custom artwork for designer Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Delta Airlines, Prince and is in the collections of Limelight Studios, Telemundo Miami, and 20th Century Fox. He has plans for an exhibit of a retrofitted vintage car with a rhino at Neoteric in Amagansett this month.
From his four-acre farm/studio in Quogue, Murphy has found a perfect storm of career acceptance, nature, and inspiration.
“The proximity to the ocean, Manhattan, and the art scene on the East End has been great,” Murphy says. “I need to live by the water and I need space for my cars, boats and equipment to make big work. This beautiful area provides all that and more.”
Davis Murphy’s new sculpture “Death of Two Worlds” will be unveiled Friday, July 5, 7–10 p.m., at Neoteric Fine Art, 208 Main Street, Amagansett. 631-838-7518, neotericfineart.com. For more on the artist, visit davismurphy.net.