Neil Murphy was born at the tail end of his parent’s journey from New York to Hawaii. He was raised with his three older brothers who sailed with their parents from San Francisco to Oahu in 1947. With a strong influence of Polynesian and Asian art from his childhood, Neil launched into studying Eastern philosophy and fine art at the University of Hawaii experimenting in performance art along the way. In 1967, he began his education at the San Francisco Art Institute with a focus in Stone Lithography. He also explored painting and was highly influenced by Kandinsky and Klee’s sense of whimsy and play. Both qualities remain threads that guide his current work. With an opportunity to take a job in graphic and sound design at Amazing Life Games shortly before graduation, Neil left SFAI to navigate a hands-on education resulting in electronic music composition and synthesizer construction; skills and techniques used in those fields now take an active role in his media works today.
In 1974 his work was part of a group drawing exhibition at the SFMOMA entitled MIX GRAPHICS II where he showed a series of works depicting streams and water flow using architectural blueprints as his media. That exhibition was pivotal and resulted in solo San Francisco, CA. exhibits at the Wenger Gallery in 1974 and Zara Gallery in 1976. A very favorable review by S.F. art critic Thomas Albright led to further solo shows at the Woodward Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ in 1976 and the Arras Gallery in New York City in 1975 entitled “Mountains and Rivers.” Following the Arras Gallery exhibition, Neil was invited to present a solo exhibit of his work in Paris the Galerie L'Espace Varennes. The exhibition was canceled before the opening due to the closing of the gallery and paralleling his rapidly evolving career in audio engineering where he worked on eclectic projects ranging from composing musical effects for clients like Levis Strauss & Co. and the infamous Mitchel Brothers, for their film Behind the Green Door, to a six-year stint as production manager of National Semiconductor's Computer Speech Lab.
Web design presented itself as an immense opportunity for his creative impulses, and it was not long before Neil became the founding partner of Ghostdog Design, creating websites for numerous Fortune 500 companies including Oracle, Kaiser Permanente, Levis Strauss & Co, Sun Microsystems and Stanford University. Merging the two worlds in his studio practice, Neil found the combination of paint and pixels to be more exciting and powerful than either one alone. His love of nature and science has provided Neil with subject matter for digital explorations and acrylic wash and ink paintings. However, his focus sharpened with the arrival of (all to common) mental illness in his family.
In 2012 Neil dove fully into gaining some understanding how brain networks and neurotransmitters contribute to both healthy and unusually wired brains. By researching, sketching, then painting an image that results from that research, cascades were revealed with each bit of knowledge gained, leading to another related topic to examine. Neil likens the depth of these explorations and his understanding of the world of neurobiology to putting a mere scratch -- on a scratch -- of the current knowledge in that field. As science probes the wondrous structure of our brains, he plans to be along for the ride as much as he is able, and continue to paint this subject that enraptures him, his family, and the leading bio-tech industry of his home in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Neil’s studio practice is based at Museum Studios, the Peninsula Museum of Art’s studio community building in Burlingame, CA where he has walk-ins who work in the biotech and medical industries or universities. He lives in Burlingame, CA with his wife Juliana, son Brian, daughter Morgan, and intensely morose dog, Sophie, and cat named Pele who falls over in a zen state at the slightest pat.
Neil Murphy's paintings at the Wenger Gallery, 855 Montgomery street, are inspired by some very complex ideas involving music and mathematics. According to Leslie Wenger, a large painting of a Hawaiian mountain range is based on Murphy's calculations of the harmonic system that would result if the valley in front of it were converted into one gigantic organ pipe.
It's all right with me is Murphy needs such concept to inspire what he does, so long as he does not dispense with painting, for these are among the freshest, most lyrical canvasses to come along in some time.
Murphy uses various dyes that are stained into linen and other fine-grained material to form transparent, ambiguous atmospheres in which he floats wiry lines drawn in ink and spots of radiant pastels.
Some of this paintings are relatively naturalistic views of cliffs and rocks, all in deep blues, amid which white lines curl toward arrows at their ends, forming both river currents and vectors of movement and energy. Others are more abstract, sprinkled with tiny arrows, free-form geometric shapes and other simple but eccentric forms, although the sense of nature, and of natural forces, is never far away these tiny shapes hover in indeterminate spaces, linked together by lines of force that are sometimes visible, sometimes the function of minutely calculated intervals and relationships, and they form a fascinating visual analogy to the erratic rhythms and effects of electronically mixed and natural sounds that Murphy has designed to complement his paintings.
One thinks of Paul Klee in looking at Murphy's work, as in discussing its relationship to mathematics and music, but more as an undertone that as a dominating influence, and for the most part, one thinks of Neil Murphy.