Friday, September 14, 2007

John Cullen Murphy Gallery Show

John Cullen Murphy exhibit at the Art Students League in NYC thru October 14, 2007.

(Photo from my friend Jim Keefe's site where he interviews Mr. Murphy. There are links to more art there as well.)

Press release follows:


Focusing on one of its notable alumni, the Art Students League of New York has mounted an exhibition devoted to the career of John Cullen Murphy, best known for drawing the Prince Valiant comic strip for more than three decades. The exhibit, ranging from student drawings to late watercolors, will be on view in the school’s main office through October 14. Murphy, an artist who was proud to call himself an illustrator, also found time to produce portraits of friends and luminaries, travel sketches and landscapes, all featured in the exhibit. The League is at 215 West 57th St. in Manhattan. Office hours are 8:30 – 8:30 Monday through Friday and 8:30 – 4 Saturday and Sunday.

Born in 1919, Murphy drew from an early age and attended the Art Institute of Chicago as a child. When his family moved to New Rochelle, New York, he had the good fortune to meet a neighbor by the name of Norman Rockwell. The artist asked the freckle-faced boy to model for one of his Saturday Evening Post covers, which appeared on September 22, 1934. Murphy began to take his drawings to Rockwell for weekly critiques. Once he produced illustrations for a Hemingway story which the artist assigned him, much like the assignments Rockwell had had decades earlier at the Art Students League.

On Rockwell’s advice, Murphy enrolled at League in 1937, where he studied with Walter Beach Humphrey, Charles Chapman and, most importantly, George Bridgman. Like generations of artists, Murphy would call upon Bridgman’s dynamic understanding of human anatomy throughout his career. Three of Murphy’s figure drawings from the Bridgman class are on view at the League.

Murphy left New York in 1942 to serve in the Army. Assigned to the South Pacific, he did portraits of high-ranking officers and sketched his fellow soldiers and New Guinea tribesmen. He also managed to sell cover art to Liberty magazine and continued to land commissions when he returned to the United States in 1946. Murphy sold illustrations to the Metro-Goldwyn movie studio and to Colliers, Esquire and Holiday magazines.

Drawing sports, particularly boxing, was one of his strengths. (When Murphy enrolled at the League, he had already sold several boxing posters to Madison Square Garden.) In 1949, he was invited to collaborate on a boxing comic strip, and for the next 20 years illustrated Big Ben Bolt. This career move was unanticipated, but it suited him. Murphy settled with his family in Greenwich, Connecticut. He worked out of a backyard studio, where his children now recall him “puffing at a pipe and keeping an ear on the ball game,” another childhood passion.

Murphy’s involvement with Prince Valiant began with his auditioning to succeed Hal Foster, creator of the strip, in 1970. He landed the job and continued as illustrator until shortly before his death in 2004. He once compared the work to stage design, explaining, “You want to have it as powerful as you can, so you have big, strong blacks… It’s a combination of drawing and composition and lighting.” Over the years, Murphy’s illustrations earned him six Story Comic Strip Awards from the National Cartoonist Society. High points of the League exhibit are the script, preparatory sketch and final ink drawings for the Prince Valiant strip. The exhibit also features Murphy’s breezy sketches of strolling monks and attentive hotel doormen from travels abroad, as well as watercolor paintings of Maine and Connecticut landscapes.

Long before today’s career counselors began advising people that they might hold five or six jobs rather than one, artists like John Cullen Murphy lived the idea. His creative adaptability may impress today’s League students as much as his drawing skills. Both are on view in this exhibition. Murphy believed that his facility with different media and his life-long ability to pursue art in different veins grew out of the rigorous training received in part at the Art Students League. Recognizing that, his widow, Joan Byrne Murphy, has established a one-year scholarship in drawing instruction at the League in his honor. The first of these annual scholarships was awarded in June

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