Michael Murphy: Perceptual Shift
Whether created for commercial, political, or personal ends, sculptor Michael Murphy’s installations are perceptual puzzles.
Michael Murphy’s large-scale sculptures are all about perspective. He is best known for Identity Crisis, a piece that raised questions that he was careful not to answer about the role of guns in America. And for as much as his works appeal to the eye, Murphy says his ultimate goal is to engage minds. The key to his success is in creating the opportunity for an “aha” moment.
Michael Murphy: This point where the viewer puts this kind of visual puzzle together and they’re presented with this reward which is you know this illusion that is viewable from one vantage point. And the way that I do it is I make it so that the viewer has to put in work and they have to be observant in order to see the illusion, so once they finally see the illusion they’ve done it. They’ve put it together and they’ve received this reward for their being observant.
AJC: Of course, they don’t have to put in the work a lot of the time now. They can go on YouTube or they can go on Facebook and see what their friends have shared with them and have that “aha” moment there because it does work very well on the screen as well.
Murphy: Our perceptions’ base is controlled by binocular vision. We have two eyes and that’s how we see space. A lot of times in person, people will have to close one eye in order to flatten out their depth perception and then the illusion becomes even more apparent. When you film something with a camera, the lens only has one eye. So space is already flattened out. So those flat illusions that I’m creating are often easier to comprehend on a screen.
And though Murphy’s more personal work addresses some contentious subjects, the bulk of his production is geared towards more lighthearted commercial projects. But it’s not always so straightforward. In 2015, creative consulting agency, Lippincott commissioned Murphy to create a piece that threatened to put his personal views and professional goals at odds.
Murphy: They asked me if I could create an image of a person rendered out of brands, and yeah, I told them right off the bat, I said well my take on this is gonna be cynical. You know, I’m a person who won’t wear a logo anywhere on my body, because I feel like these companies make suckers out of their customers, basically, by turning them into walking billboards and having them pay for it. But people equate the value of their possessions by the value of the company that created those possessions, so to advertise that company lets the people around them know how much they paid for that shirt. So I let the company know that Branded was going to be pessimistic, sort of critical angle on the piece — and they said they were fine with that.
To the first time viewer, Michael Murphy’s massive installations may feel impossible to parse, but when it comes to creating them, he says the process is simple, if not easy.
Murphy: It’s like a Rubik’s cube, you know? It’s problem solving, like you know you figure out how to do small parts of it you know and then you figure out how to do another small part and you add it all up to, you know, solving a larger problem.