Written by Maia Hawthorne
Maybe you know Lori Murphy as South Newton’s art and physical education teacher. Maybe you know her as a sports photographer. Maybe you know her because of the accolades she’s won for her art, including being one of 29 Hoosier women awarded the honor of showing her work in the Indiana State House for a year. Lori Murphy’s career and art portfolio are wide and varied, but she knows there’s a connective element running through all of it. When she’s asked to put that element into words, she does it like this: “My work is repetitive layering of an undulating bulbous organic deep-seeded guttural growl that is engulfed in a rustic tranquility.” “I know that sounds crazy,” she adds, but when you look at her work, you see that she’s right.
You start to see it in Murphy’s digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) sports photography at murphysclay.com or on Instagram @murphysclayaction. These are an ongoing series of dynamic, high-stakes athletic moments captured on film. “It makes my athletic guttural growl emerge from deep within,” she says. “It stops a sliver of a moment in time that often can’t be seen by the naked eye. The drive to capture ‘that moment’ keeps me moving forward every day. I WILL get it next time.” In 2013, Murphy’s ability to capture “that moment” won her the Robert’s Fan Photographer of the Game award in partnership with the Indianapolis Colts. The award-winning photograph was of an intense breaststroke swimmer coming up for air.
Murphy’s desire to capture “that moment” doesn’t end when she takes off her sports photographer’s hat, though. Murphy’s collection of images from her fine art Instagram feed, @murphysclay, suggest that her artist’s eye works 24/7. Through the juxtaposition of close-ups and quiet moments, you begin to see that she’s captured the miraculous of the everyday. The collection feels spontaneous, modern, haunting. Murphy likens it to “the continuous base of a techno song searching for the unreachable last beat.” That quality comes in part from the media platform, she says. “Instagram attempts to subdue that insatiable itch that antagonizes you to keep scratching,” she says. “Around every corner there is an itch waiting to be scratched and I’m grateful to have Instagram by my side to help.” Murphy has recently printed the last five years of Instagram into books. “The gratification of holding digital work in hand is satisfying,” she says of that experience.
Though much of her current artistic energy is channeled into photography, she still expresses herself with the medium that was her earliest love: clay. Murphy says she has always found working with clay therapeutic: “I have used throwing as therapy many times in my life. I try to relay that to my students. I tell them, ‘When you can’t control anything else in your life, you can control this clay right here and now. Get lost in it, become one with it and tell it what to do.’”
Clay and teaching have gone hand-in-hand for Murphy for a long time. In high school she had the opportunity to teach her principal how to throw on the potter’s wheel. That and other, similar moments caused Murphy to recognize that she had a talent for seeing the parts of a whole, and of communicating that information to others. “I found that I was able to break down skills of any kind into steps and explain them as instructions for someone to follow. This gave me the desire to share that knowledge in order to watch others develop various skills and grow artistically. I decided that art education and physical education were my destiny.”
And Murphy has continued to create art in clay. She sees in that work in clay, as well as in her drawings and paintings, a “layered organic undulation.” When you look at this work on murphysclay.com, you see what she means. Her two-dimensional works are a vivid, surreal dreamscape of shape and form, and her impish clay figures look as if they gamboled right out of those environments and into ours to have a bit of a look around. (When she showed these clay figures at the Tippecanoe Arts Federation gallery some years ago under the name “Textured Curves,” she called them “a family.”) Even Murphy’s abstract photographs contain elements of that undulation, rolling waves of color or trailing smoky tendrils past our field of vision. Murphy loves the curvature and the movement of these shapes and forms and hopes that they please viewers as well. She says she likes to think of viewers “speculat[ing] the lower layers in my watercolor and colored pencil work.” “All of us protect a portion of ourselves from others and allow only certain parts to be seen,” she suggests. The layering is a way of inviting viewers into the piece, to consider: “With this layering a mystery is left for speculation.”
As you’re speculating, you may wonder where this versatile artist will channel her talents next. When asked, she says, “This year has brought on some challenges that have made me excited to see how I emerge on the other side. I hope to tackle new artistic endeavors and revisit old ones.” No doubt the result will be new and striking, while containing shades of the organic layering and signature guttural growl we’ve come to expect from Lori Murphy.