Benjamin Murphy is most well-known for creating darkly alluring monochromatic, figurative line drawings using the esoteric medium of electrical tape. Murphy cuts the black tape and affixes it upon glass, to create detailed and elaborate portraits. I had the honour of interviewing Murphy ahead of his upcoming exhibition ‘Lavish Entropy’ at the Delphian Gallery (running from the 11th-15th of July) and below follows his detailed and thoughtful answers:
Lavish Entropy is a great exhibition name which follows on from your previous show Gilded Chaos. What inspires your exhibition titles?
Gilded Chaos came from a Baudelaire essay called The Painter Of Modern Life. I read this whilst I was completing the works, and I felt it summed up both sides to my work quite nicely. Lavish Entropy is a title that I have had in my mind since Gilded Chaos, as both words in the two titles are basically semi-synonyms of each other. In a similar way to how my work on the whole has evolved and changed whilst still retaining its salient components, so has the title. This show feels very much the older, more refined sister to the last one.
Lavish Entropy is also your fifth solo show. How does it compare to your previous exhibitions?
This one is much more Lavish, and much more Chaotic. In the past I’ve tried to fill the gallery with as much visual stimulus as possible (by drawing all over the walls and floor) in the hope that people can really get lost in there, and go away feeling the need to come back. This time however I’m giving the works a bit more breathing space, but including a lot more detain within the works themselves. There will still be some wall drawings, but I’m not going overboard.
In the past I attempted to make the show as a whole one immersive artwork that one could walk into and explore, and I am still doing that but in a different way. Now the tape paintings are three-dimensional themselves, as I’ve done the foreground on one layer of glass, the midground on another, and the background on a third, and then framed these all within one frame, with a small gap in between each.
After having your artwork showcased internationally, where has been your favourite location to exhibit your work?
At the risk of sounding incredibly insular and dull, I think London is the greatest place on the planet. That being said, there are lots of places I have never been, and in many ways my work is much more travelled than I am. There is a potential LA solo show next year, which if it happens would be amazing. I have shown over there a couple of times before and it looks great from what I see (from my rainy East-London viewpoint).
Your work is renowned for using the unusual medium of electrical tape. What inspired you to use this material? I imagine it is quite difficult and even frustrating to work with.
It’s a complete nightmare a lot of the time but for me that is part of its charm. I like how un-malleable and limiting it can be, and I am completely unable to get the same effect with any easier-to-work with medium. So for now at least I am stuck with it. (Pun not intended).
From creased petals to elaborately embellished drapes, the level of intricacy in your work is astonishing. Why is this level of detail so integral in your work?
To be honest I’m not sure I really know the answer to that. Perhaps it is my attempt to challenge myself and see how far I can push the medium, or perhaps I’m just showing off. I think both answers are fine, and probably also both a bit true.
With mirrors and flowers frequently recurring in your work, how are the ideas of fragility and vanity important to your work?
Nice observation there, I like to explore those themes a lot. I try to have my works show an earnest fragility, but with the hint of something powerful lingering just below the surface. Because the works are stationary ‘scenes’ (for want of a better word), it’s impossible to tell what is truly going on most of the time. I try to use this by showing the figures in my work never really doing anything concrete, so that the feel of the works is more vague. The women are often alone, and are never posing so as to be on display for the viewer. They are non-sexualised although they are sometimes nude, and are active rather than passive in their environments. They are essentially going about their daily lives, but the pose and their expressions hopefully hint at something more.
I am interested in the Vanitas style of painting, and often include elements in the background that share similar themes to objects within Vanitas paintings. In many ways I see my works to be Vanitas paintings but zoomed-out, so they also show the person who’s vanitas it is in the background.
How do these themes figure in a climate that is dominated by social media and one’s appearance constantly being put on show?
To be honest I don’t really tend to consider my work in relation to things like social media. I think there are enough artists out there right now making works that are about such things for me to be able to ignore it as much as is possible. Who knows whether I’m successful in this, but I can only try.
I have read that literary modernism has inspired your work. What kind of themes from this era of writing have transpired in your art?
The show has been largely inspired by books I’ve been reading as research for a play I’ve been writing. It is called Flowering Desolation, which is also semi-synonymous with Gilded Chaos and Lavish Entropy, but actually came from one of the lines in the play – this time by Franz Kafka. I’ve written it in quite a unique way in that every sentence is lifted from a different source of classic literature and then stitched together to form one linear narrative.
I originally intended to focus 100% on this and not really work on physical artworks during the writing, but out of sheer compulsion more than anything else I found myself working away on both. Because of this, much of what I was reading found its way into the artworks, and I found myself with enough works to do a show. This wasn’t really the plan beforehand. I will also be exhibiting a single page from Flowering Desolation in the show, and releasing the whole thing on my website as an ebook at around same time.
‘Lavish Entropy’ will also showcase work utilising other mediums such as ceramics and stitched paper, what is it like changing between materials that are so different to each other?
It has been both incredibly annoying and rewarding in one. The stitch drawings were especially heinous to do as I had to sit for 8 hours a day with my arms out in front of me, which puts immense stress on your shoulders and neck. I did them all by hand as opposed to using a sewing machine so they took weeks of these extended periods of holding my arms out. It might not sound like a lot but if you try it now for just two minutes you’ll start to realise why I hated doing them so much. That being said though, I love the finished article – I just probably won’t be doing any more for a long, long time.
The ceramics were a lot less stressful, and are essentially quite playful. As was the case with the stitch pieces, I had never done anything like this before and am a complete novice at it. I decided to embrace that naivety rather than attempt to force the same preciseness as I have in my tape paintings, and so the result is these quite lopsided sculptures that contrast nicely with the other works.
Are there any artistic directions you hope to pursue soon? Or any other esoteric mediums you plan to centre your work around?
Now that the play is done I’m getting to work on my first novel, which has been close to ten years in the planning. I can’t really say too much about this though yet, and the finish date is quite a way off I’d imagine. I’ve also been doing some oil paintings whenever I’ve had a spare moment (which hasn’t been often), so I might try to take some time off from everything else for a while and do some more of those if I can. Maybe I’ll do a painting show next year if they turn out well, but equally as likely is that I’ll build a big bonfire and torch the lot of them. Only time will tell…
For more information, visit: https://delphiangallery.com/benjamin-murphy-opens-5th-solo-exhibition-lavish-entropy-with-delphian-gallery/