Hello, I am David Murphy, previously known as Cypher or The Panic Artist. I am a forty-eight-year-old (b. 1971), Irish Expressionist/ Realist painter and writer living and working in Dublin, Ireland.
I have painted since before I can remember, but I have been painting seriously for thirty-eight years - and my surviving oeuvre contains thirty-two years’ worth of paintings and drawings. The greatest artistic influences on my work have been; Gothic, Baroque, Realist, Expressionist, Neo-Expressionist and Outsider Art.
My work is an anti-social, solipsistic, explosion of uncensored desire, and unregulated emotion. I make art for me and me alone. My early life was fractured by, death, madness, hunger, perversion, unhappy love affairs, and virulent rejections from the art world – so my work inclines towards pessimistic nihilism. As a teenager, I suffered badly from an Oedipus complex (an inability to break my dependency on my mother) well in to my mid-twenties. And because of my traumatic childhood, I have an arrested development and care little about real adult life or the art game. My monastic and voyeuristic pornography and the extreme nature of my art is a result of my attempt to develop a language that could express; the pain I felt after being ravaged by childhood abuse, neglect and isolation, my alienation from humanity, my tortured masculinity and the apocalypse of my soul.
Since my father died when I was six and a half and I was brought up by my severely mentally ill mother (who was devoted and caring when well - but who terrorised me and physically and emotional abused me when mentally ill) and virtually all my teachers, therapists and psychiatrists were women - I grew up with virtually no male role models. Thus, my artistic rebellion was not against patriarchy – but rather smothering, controlling, judgemental, censoring, terrorising and emasculating matriarchy! On the other hand, I have always relied on the kindness of women to protect me. My work was also a rebellion against the provincial, Nationalistic, Catholic, insular and paternalistic censorship and conformity I grew up under - and which resulted in Ireland being one of the most socially conservative and repressive nations in the West - with the strictest censorship laws in Western Europe. Thus, my expressive and pornographic art - was my revenge upon childhood silencing, deceit and repression.
My work is also a rejection of every current art world orthodoxy from; Marxism to Feminism, Structuralism, Deconstruction, the dictatorship of linguistics, academic contemporary art, Conceptualism, factory and foundry made art, political correctness, social activism and progressive political art.
Thus, my mediums are mostly defiantly traditional; pencil, brush and ink, pastels, watercolours, alkyds, acrylics and oils and I use them in a manner the Expressionists over a hundred years ago would have recognised. What matters to me are traditional qualities of craftsmanship, personal vision, authenticity and necessity.
I have no formal qualifications and I am largely self-taught as an artist. My art education - such as it is - consisted of a series of night classes taken intermittently over the course of twenty years, from the age of thirteen to thirty-three (mostly with private tutors or in the National College of Art and Design in Dublin). As well as one ill-disciplined year in Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design from 1989-90 - where I was accepted on the basis of exceptional talent. But I got into trouble after a fight with a fellow pupil and then found my depression and social anxiety prevent me from preforming to the level I had hoped. So, I spent more time painting my "real art" at home (including self-loathing, nude self-portraits and sinister erotic scenes) and thus failed my first year and was expelled.
My artistic heroes are; Pablo Picasso, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Vincent van Gogh, Lucian Freud, Richard Gerstl, Egon Schiele, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Willem de Kooning and Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.
A list of my subjects would include; self-portrait busts, nude self-portraits, female nudes, kissing couples, erotic scenes, landscapes, gestural abstractions, abstract word paintings, text paintings and most controversially pornographic scenes including: fellatio, cunnilingus, intercourse and sodomy. My themes would include; madness, isolation, loneliness, voyeurism and mediated desire.
Throughout my life, I have appalled people - especially women - when I have told them that I paint pornographic paintings. Time and time again, I have been asked snide, loaded questions about my pornographic art - by people who frankly suspect me of the worst kind of character - and cannot fathom why anyone would glorify such immoral people or have any interest in such trashy taboo imagery. I find it a pointless question to try to answer, because those who ask it – have already made up their minds on the basis of religious, aesthetic, Feminist or Liberal moral cant. And they have no intention of being honest about their own sexuality or relationship to porn. Contrary to what most people would assume – I do not paint porn to shock - especially because I started painting porn long before I had any audience to shock. And frankly the skill, depth, complexity and perseverance of my pornographic work is the best rebuke to that fatuous claim. Nor do I paint porn to arouse myself or others. Or to celebrate sexuality - in fact, sex for me is a horror. Moreover, hardly anything I have ever painted represented my real sex life – it merely recorded mass media porn images - I consumed and I was obsessed by. Just a few of the reasons I paint porn include; as an attempt to surmount my terror of women by painting them obsessively; as a form of cathartic exorcism; as a projection of my fears and container for my pain; as a perverse compensation for a fearful life of limited social contact, intimacy or love; as a metaphor for loneliness and alienation and the cruelty of existence; as projected self-portrait of myself as a sexual woman; as a tearing down of the theatrical walls of art to expose the obscenity of life; as a kind of visual, philosophical brothel; as a visual display of the erotic's of agony; as a continuation of the erotic art of the likes of Pablo Picasso and Egon Schiele; as a supreme technical, intellectual and emotional challenge; as revenge upon the art world that rejected me; as a rebellion against the art market; as an assault on suffocating bourgeois good taste; as retribution against the lies and idealism of High Art; as a rebuke to disinterested aesthetics and reduction of art to mere techniques and faddish styles; as retaliation against the censorious humanitarian lies of the Liberal media and Feminist propaganda; and ultimately, as a symbol of my outsider and outcast status. Thus, in my pornographic paintings, I make the tragic erupt in obscene imagery and turn pornographic images into records of my state of mind.
I had minor solo exhibitions in Dublin in 1994, 1996 and 1997. Then in 2000 and 2002, I had two major shows in the Oisín Gallery in Dublin - but before and since I have had mostly rejections - many of them extremely disgusted and dismissive. My work has been attacked as; adolescent, immature, revolting, insane, violent, ugly, sick, filth, stylistically inconsistent, obscene, degrading, sexist, misogynistic, exploitative, unacceptable or simply not art. To make matters worse for my critics was the fact that I was plainly skilled enough to create beautiful conventional paintings - but I chose to use my talent to paint porn! Furthermore, when I have brought up my history of spiteful rejections in my writings – I have been told I have a persecution complex! Yet, they are only the rejections I have received from the art world. My life has been filled with people avoiding me or verbally attacking me because of my art. Which is one of the reasons I am happier living alone with my girlfriend.
But since May 2000, I have sold over €61,266 worth of art. The highest price paid for one of my paintings was €10,792 (The Dialectic of Emotions 1995 - sold in the Oisín Gallery in November 2000.) The average price for one of my works has been around €550 - 1,500. My art is in corporate and private collections in America, Ireland, England and Australia.
Because I grew up alone with my mentally ill mother - I withdrew into myself - and concentrated on my art to the exclusion of everything else. In compensation for my childhood misery, depression and self-loathing – I developed a grandiose conception of myself as an exceptional artist - out of all proportion to my actual gifts. As a result of my childhood trauma, I have suffered from a borderline personality disorder, social anxiety, toxic shame and chronically low self-esteem most of my life. I am narcissistic, introverted, reclusive, voyeuristic and desperately shy. It was only in my mid-twenties that I began socialising and trying to get my work shown in art galleries. I managed to get a number of exhibitions - but collected many more rejections. After my mother’s death in 2009, and my subsequent grief and mental breakdown - I withdrew again from the world in order to preserve my sanity. I also gave up trying to achieve art world recognition. Having received over 99 rejections from art galleries and curators around the world - I stopped giving them the satisfaction of turning me down. But despite my alienation, I continued to paint more than ever - if only as a form of privileged therapy. As I aged, I became increasingly misanthropic, anti-social, nihilistic and disgusted by the sham of the art world and contemporary art. I want virtually nothing to do with the world - and have nothing to give it.
Because of my borderline personality disorder, my vision of myself as an artist is extremely unstable and I can wildly swing from thinking I am the greatest artist the world has ever seen - to thinking I am the most sick, delusional and talentless man to ever call himself an artist in the space a few minutes. And often I just feel a terrible sense of worthlessness and nothingness. My BPD provokes me to have a very extreme and dystopia vision of the world - which is made manifest in my traumatic and cognitively dissonant artworks. My art is notable for both its erotic and confessional mania. Because of my BPD my work is characterised by breaks in style and subject matter and shifts from figuration to abstraction - that do not follow the usual linear chronology of conventional oeuvres. My artworks swing wildly between extremely repressed and impersonal - to aggressive, suicidal and confessional. In the space of a few weeks, I have gone from painting realistically to expressionistically to abstractly and even conceptually. Because my emotions and thoughts are so erratic and fleeting, I prefer to work on small-scale works on paper rather than on large laborious canvases. And it is in my works on paper - that my true personality is revealed the most. While painting any subject, but in particular in self-portraits, female portraits and nudes and pornographic scenes - my vision, emotional attitude and perception of the subject can swing from love to hate to indifference and then back to love and hate again in the space of a few hours. I paint in tidal waves of creativity followed by equally intense periods of creative drought and despair. I have changed style constantly and frequently had stylistic identity crises. At my most artistically uninspired, I have often adopted the style of artists who I hero worshipped like; Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, Egon Schiele, Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Julian Schnabel and descended into visual plagiarism and pastiche. My artistic vision has gone from fanatically grandiose to self-loathing and defeatist and back again to fanatically grandiose depending on my mood. I have painted and drawn the most conventional and safe subjects but also the most extreme subjects from pornography and childbirth to violent boxing and UFC fights. I have continuously made confessional or sexual artworks fearlessly - but later felt mortified by them. And I have constantly confessed my sins and expressed my toxic shame and guilt in my art. Since I feared I would be rejected anyway by the art world, I have often painted porn to further alienate people and confirm my rejection or I have even made artworks in which I explicitly told the art world I fucking hated it! I have painted in joyful and ecstatic frenzies but also in bitter shameful despair. At the age of twenty, I changed my name to Cypher to signify my loss of self and at my most depressed, self-loathing and hopeless my work was often noticeable for its repressed and impersonal style. But I also have painted myself attempting self-mutilation to try to unload my pain into paint. I have often painted realistic images - only to vandalise them mid-way through - because I despaired at my lack of talent and skill. I have frequently worked my artworks all over signifying my pre-psychotic fear of a horror vacui. I have frequently made artworks that expressed an extremely black and white vision of the world in which I either loved or hated women or I was either cock happy or impotent or where people were either beautiful or ugly and where my art was either priceless or worthlessness. Or I have regressed into conventional realist artworks when I have lost my self-belief and have been desperate to be accepted by art lovers. In my extreme periods of emotional distress my work has looked paranoid or I have painted myself as a child as I did in works from 2009. At my most paranoid and fearful I have made most of my abstract artworks - hoping that I could sublimate and disguise the issues behind my trauma. I have also been angered at my lack of artistic recognition and been convinced that there was a conspiracy against my art. Thus, for viewers, my artworks have often been painfully emotional, distressing and frightening to contemplate. My art has looked like it has come from some terrifying parallel universe and it was extremely difficult for viewers to empathise with me or understand what I was trying to say with my art. So, most art lovers have written me off as a deranged maniac making filthy images - who’s compulsive, purging therapy artwork was worthless rubbish. As for myself, I have swung between being incredibly proud of my oeuvre and being ashamed and disappointed by it. Because of my BPD, I have intensely identified with all kinds of artistic, philosophical and sexual ideas - but I have also just as passionately later refuted them. I have also gone from adoring art to hating it. And even girlfriends, family members or friends who have known me for years have said that they do not understand me or my art.
To date my oeuvre contains over 4,326 paintings (acrylics, watercolours, oils, alkyds, mixed-media, collages, pastels or gouaches – mostly on 140lb/300gsm watercolour paper) and over 2,894 drawings (pencil, ink, coloured pencils, chalks, or charcoal – mostly on 140lb/300gsm watercolour paper.) I have also produced 4 sculptures, 27 mono-prints, 13 scrapbooks with examples of art I admire and 71 notebooks with over 3,350 sketches. I have also taken thousands of documentary and family photographs, but I do not consider myself a photographer. I am merely a documenter of my own life and working practices. Thus, this website represents less than 45% of my total independent artworks and only a selection of my drawings in sketchbooks. Moreover, my surviving oeuvre represents only those works that have survived my own self-critical destruction. On average, I have destroyed about 20% of my initial artwork production. All my works including my mono-prints are handmade, unique, one-off pieces - made entirely by myself without assistants or technicians and with the best artist quality materials. However, of 4,326 paintings only around 259 or about 6.3% of them are on canvas, board or found objects - the rest were painted on watercolour paper. My lack of a studio and storage space, poverty, marginalization and my excessive creativity has forced me to work mostly on paper.
At heart, I am an Expressionist artist; my art is the very opposite of 'arts for art’s sake', in fact I see no separation between my art and my life, both feed from each other to form a highly personal and autobiographical art. My approach to art is distinctly Expressionist in character - my work tells stories about the human condition – which most can recognise and read – even if they cannot identify with it.
Self-loathing and ashamed of my limited ability, between 1987 and late 1990, I would square up photographs and work intensively on them in pencil on cheap cartridge paper, before transferring them to canvas or expensive watercolour paper to complete the artwork. Then between late 1990 and early 2003, I often used acetate tracings I had taken from video screen stills on my TV in order to speed up my drawing process and conceal the effort that had gone into making my artworks. So, what appeared to be spontaneous and expressive works were in fact often highly considered. And from 1987-1995, I often painted in multiple layers of acrylic, alkyd or oil paint with each layer correcting the previous one. As such my rapid development occurred not only in painting by painting but in paint layer by paint layer. However, in late 2003, I swore off all forms of tracing – believing that the honesty of my art depended upon an approach that was as direct and spontaneous as possible. So, since late 2003 (apart from a half dozen works in which I revisited my old style) I no longer use tracing, squaring up or projecting of images. It means that when I draw - I hardly ever use an eraser. If I make a mistake in my drawings - I either over draw the corrections or rip up the sheet. In my paintings, I mostly paint in an 'alla-prima' manner rarely using glazes and limiting the number of layers I apply. This approach means that my work has a freshness lacking in the work of other painters. However, it also means that my paintings often have a rather clumsy naïve quality - the result of my technical limitations and the demands I make upon myself to work without a safety net.
Because I am fearful of criticism and ambivalent towards praise, chronically shy and loath most interactions with real people, about 80% of my work has been based upon photographs - of which about 60% were found in the media. I am so introverted that I have preferred to work indoors, under artificial light, at night, from; newspaper and magazine clippings, black and white photographs of classical sculptures, movie stills, television screen grabs, glamour photographs, images lifted from pornographic magazines and videos, anatomy prints, vintage erotica, postcards, reproductions of artworks, internet JPGs, sports action shots, web pages, children’s books, family photos, personally taken photographs of myself and friends and scenes from my holidays. I use these sources as a way of reacting to and commenting on the world without participating in it.
In my figure paintings (which form the core of my art), I break up the planes of faces and bodies into patches of broken colour, in a manner that owes something to my N.C.A.D. life-painting training and something to Lucian Freud.
My drawings have a strong, confident graphic outline - I know what I want, and what I want to leave out. My drawing and painting style is direct and summary, I do not attempt to hide my brush-marks, and their raw exposure gives my work its emotional depth. I pile up cryptic words, scratchy drawing, wild gestures and lunges of vivid colour. The words come from, philosophy, feminist, media and art books, Indie music and my own wild thoughts.
If you want consistency in an artist, you will never find it in my work. Most artists only ever do one thing. My art is not dependent upon a single style or manner. It has many strands. Taking my art as a totality - does not mean that it is all of equal value. There are major works but there are also many minor works of lesser value. However, the cumulative effect gets more powerful the more I produce and the more I complicate things. I work in conceptually based series, in which I adopt a particular style, medium and subject that I then pursue through dozens of paintings and drawings. The core of my art can roughly be derived into six major periods;
1. 1987-1990 - My Black Paintings Period, painted in brusque rough brushstrokes in high contrasts of darks and lights. The surfaces of my Black Paintings were so thickly lacquered with paint, that they formed an impervious air-tight surface that mirrored my reclusive and anti-social existence. In addition, there were my classical drawings, which displayed; a strong linear style, with bold outlines and sharp contrasts of tone. These mute and repressed drawings also mirrored my own selectively mute and shut in nature at the time and there was barely any emotional spillage in these frozen, almost robotic drawings. During 1990, I struggled to break free of my rigid linear drawing and dark pallet. I tried to make my paintings more expressive, colourful and transfuse my roiling emotions into pigment. As a result, many of my works of 1990 dismally failed - though I did create a few works that I could build upon in the following year. Even at this early stage, my work was notable for its confessional and erotic mania. The subject matter of my work from 1987-1990, included nude self-portraits and nude self-portraits masturbating, as well as tormented erotic scenes, female portraits, female nudes and my first drawings based on pornographic source material.
2. 1991-1995 – During my Panic Art Period, I was intensely lonely, suicidal and suffered from an agonising borderline personality disorder. I painted for years in solitude, mapping my inner existential inferno with a trail of agonised paintings and projected my sexual terror of women onto huge pornographic canvases. My Panic paintings were explosive expressionist paintings made up of angular shapes, simplified drawing, bold juxtapositions of contrasting colours (red and green or orange and blue) frenzied brushstrokes and jammed with text and diagrams. I was influenced by Richard Gerstl, Willem de Kooning and Jean-Michel Basquiat amongst many others. In April 1991, I began signing my work 'Cypher' as a sign of my alienation and would only revert to my real name in February 2009 after my mother's death. From June 1990 – September 1993, was also my most authentic ‘Outsider’ period when I created my art in insane solitude for my own personal reasons and without any audience or critics. 1991-1995 was also the period during which I created virtually all my large-scale works - because I spent most of my inheritance from my father’s death on the best quality artist materials and French linen canvases. My work included suicidal nude self-portraits, nude self-portraits masturbating and nude self-portraits mutilating myself, as well as pornographic scenes, anguished female nudes, my first abstracts and a growing number of autobiographical text-based works.
3. 1996-2000 – My Transitional Period, when my relationship with my first girlfriend Helen Black, growing social life and growing maturity challenged my self-created solipsistic adolescent universe. It was also a period when lack of money for art materials drove me to spend more time writing than painting and arguably my writing diminished my creativity and ability to emote on canvas. Thus, my artworks began to be more about the expression of ideas rather than raw emotion. There was also was a lowering of imaginative levels and seriousness in my work from 1996-2000. Struggling to make sense of my new life and creating under the influence of hashish, ecstasy and Outsider Art, I made even more insane and transgressive looking works jammed with text, diagrams and abstract smears of pure colour straight from the tube, often on ready-made supports such as pornographic magazine pages, photographs, war maps and other artist’s paintings. My subjects included pornographic cartoons and paintings, insane drug induced collage and symbolic abstracts and acetate based nude self-portraits and orgy scenes. However, by 1998 at the age of twenty-seven, my fanatical belief in my art had been lost because of the evaporation of my adolescent vision, my lack of success as an artist and my bitter study art criticism and pessimistic philosophy. Thus, my artworks of 1998 declared my hatred of art. My work lost its explosive solipsistic intensity of expression and became more impersonal, distanced, ironic, cynical and Post-Modern as my work became more and more influenced by Julian Schnabel.
4. 2001-2004 – My Identity Crisis Period, brought on by my two exhibitions in the Oisín Gallery in Dublin in 2000 and 2002, during which I was castigated from nearly all sides and had to endure constant criticism from my dealers and pressure to make PG-rated, commercial, conservative illustrative work. Which led me to have the most desperate identity crisis of my career. I lost direction and self-belief as an artist and would spend the next five years trying to re-build myself as an artist. My subjects included figurative and text paintings damning the Irish art world, male and female academic studies, self-portrait busts, landscapes, soft-core female nudes and pornographic drawings and paintings - all painted under the delirious influence of hashish. These works were often of student quality - due to my intensive rebuilding of my technique. In mid-2004, my first girlfriend Helen ended our relationship leaving me distraught and forced to rebuild my life again. Meanwhile, I gradually lost touch with all my old friends.
5. 2005-Mid-2007 - The Carol Stevens Period, was the start of my re-birth as an artist through the influence of my beloved second girlfriend and greatest muse Carol Stevens. Realising, that as an artist I had gained little from friendships, contact with an art gallery, socialising or debauchery - I vowed to live alone with Carol and concentrate fully on my art the way I had in my early twenties. Carol became virtually my only artistic audience and I trusted her opinion more than anyone I had ever known. She encouraged me to explore less extreme sexual images more mature and subtle styles and avoid the adolescent crassness of my early work. So, over twice as much of my work from 2005-2016 were non-pornographic even conventional subjects as my work from 1987-2004. We also spend a lot of our time going to art exhibitions and I wrote an art blog about our trips.
6. Late 2007-2019– My Purple Period, of expressive figurative, abstract and text work, which possessed a new maturity, painterly-application and refinement of style. It was notable for my frequent use of pinks, purples, mauves and violets. My extraordinary use of purple was a symbolic manifestation of my borderline personality disorder, persecution complex, paranoia and cannabis induced psychosis. It was also a totemistic attempt to find obsessive-compulsive safety from complete mental breakdown - in a consistent pallet of purple. My purple period was full of threatening and doom-laden images - made even more so by my purple pallet. I did not always use purple in my paintings of this period, but it was the dominant colour and reoccurred again and again at my lowest ebbs. My brush work also became subtler and softer and my drawing became more lyrical and precise. Between late-2007 and mid-2017, I painted with more intensity, consistency and thoughtfulness than I ever had - even in my explosive Panic Art Period of 1991-1993. In terms of pure craft and technical mastery - I reached the height of my powers in my forties. Meanwhile, between late-2007 and mid-2013, Carol studied Fine Art in NCAD first to gain a Degree and then a Masters. Not only did her youthful exploration of creativity re-light my fire as an artist and give me a cherished companion whom I could talk to intensively about art and show my work to, she also gave me access to the NCAD library where I devoured books on Neo-Expressionism and Expressionism. At the start of 2009, my mother died and as well as experiencing extreme grief - I also found all the memories and feelings I had suppressed about my childhood overwhelm me. So, my work from 2009-2016 was consumed by feelings of grief, guilt, shame, anger and despair. The 7th February 2009 also saw me return to signing my paintings ‘David Murphy’. Late in 2009, I quit drugs and drink but continued to chain smoke. My subjects included guilt ridden female nudes, paintings of my mother’s funeral, landscapes and town scenes from my mother’s old Polaroid's, drippy portraits of famous writers and philosophers, drawings and watercolours of Greco-Roman sculptures, paintings of myself from my memory or imagination, insane collages and frenzied abstractions. Then in late 2011, after trying for years to suppress my interest in sexual themes in my art and only becoming even more conflicted, sick and self-loathing - I returned to painting erotic scenes, paintings of webcam women, expressive and unrepentant pornographic paintings, overlapping pornographic drawings and paintings, torn, collaged or over-painted drawings and nihilistic collages. My return to pornographic imagery was also a nihilistic recognition that I was doomed to never be accepted by the art world – but I vowed to paint with the freedom of the damned. My new pornographic work was notable for an improved technique, greater sophistication and tragic melancholy.