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.
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 controlling, judgmental, censoring, terrorising and emasculating matriarchy! 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 a craftsmanship and 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.
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. 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 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; 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 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 made the tragic erupt in obscene imagery and turned 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, pagan, insane, violent, ugly, sick, filth, stylistically inconsistent, obscene, degrading, sexist, misogynistic, exploitative, unacceptable or simply not art. Furthermore, when I have brought up my history of spiteful rejections in my writings – I have been told I have a persecution complex!
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, depression, social anxiety 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.
To date my oeuvre contains over 4,240 paintings (acrylics, watercolours, oils, alkyds, mixed-media, collages, pastels or gouaches – mostly on watercolour paper) and over 2,894 drawings (pencil, ink, coloured pencils, chalks, or charcoal – mostly on watercolour paper.) I have also produced 4 sculptures, 27 mono-prints, 13 scrapbooks with examples of art I admire and 70 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 4,240 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. Technically, I believe that the honesty of my art depends upon an approach that is as direct and spontaneous as possible. 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.
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 five major periods;
1. 1987-1990 - My 'Black Paintings Period', painted in brusque rough brushstrokes in high contrasts of dark's 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 in particular, I struggled to break free of my rigid linear drawing and dark pallet trying to make my paintings more expressive and colourful. As a result, many of my works of 1990 failed - though I did create a few works that I could build upon in the following year. The subject matter of my work from 1987-1990, included nude self-portraits including one’s masturbating, tormented erotic scenes, female portraits, female nudes and my first drawings based on pornographic source material.
2. 1991-1995 - My 'Panic Art Period', made up of explosive Expressionist paintings made up of angular shapes, simplified drawing, bold juxtapositions of complementary colours (red and green, orange and blue) frenzied brushstrokes, and jammed with text and diagrams. In April 1991, I also 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 canvases - because I spent most of my inheritance from my father’s death on the best artist quality materials. My subjects included suicidal self-portraits nude, masturbating and self-mutilating, pornographic scenes, anguished female nudes, my first abstracts and an increasing use of text-based work.
3. 1996-2001 – My 'Druggy Period', when under the influence of hashish, ecstasy and Outsider Art, I painted insane 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. I used hashish constantly when painting from 1996 until late 2009.
4. 2002-2006 – 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 all sides and had to endure constant criticism from my dealers. 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. Over twice as much of my work, from 2005-2016, were non-pornographic even conventional subjects as my work from 1987-2004.
5. 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 grief, depression, persecution complex, paranoia and 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. 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, frenzied abstractions, 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.