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article imageOp-Ed: Art teacher enters exhibit and reminds student, no 'instant art' Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Sep 18, 2012 in Entertainment
Sonoma - Talking to artist Larry Murphy is literally catching up on news with a friend. The reason why this reporter says that is because, I have known Murphy for more than 30 years.
The most intense of that was the three years he was my art teacher and counselor in high school. By definition and demeanor, to most of us in the school at the time considered him mellow and easy-going. Yes, he was and still is. Yet, when approaching a subject or concern close to his heart, he's strong and determined.
And, "Murph" as we kids used to call him, was disciplined when it had to do with art. "There is no such thing as instant art, here, okay, Farrell." That is what he would say when he would get a bit upset with me and my teenage antics at that time way back in the 1980's.
My usual antics, like many in high school was to skip around the assignments. Or to find an "easy-way" to do stuff. All art, be it technique like drawing, sculpting or even acting on stage, is emotional. This is true for any young person, especially in school. And, at age 16 or so I was no exception, even if I thought I was "special."
Free-style drawing was not easy; and using charcoals, pencils, crayons, pastels and such only made my attempts more arduous. Murphy explained that even when someone is inspired seemingly for "an instant," that inspiration takes work and effort to reach realization and completion.
We would argue unfortunately. Yet he firmly stood his ground on the fact that art was not something "instant." I was not good at drawing and clumsy when working with various materials. Pastels can get messy and charcoal if not used properly gets smudged all over the place.
He made us all work for our grades and with me he kept reminding me that if I were to pursue anything creative I must not hold on to the notion of it being "instant."
It is odd how that simple saying "there is no such thing as 'Instant Art'" has remained with me. Especially so now; I think of Murphy's saying when I watch all the younger generations so caught up in the "instant" aspects of today's technology. If it doesn't have special effects and "cool" graphics, people 25 and under are not going to pay attention. Of course, that is another topic to ponder with lots of opinions, no doubt.
Yet when I met with Murphy this past Aug. 31 for morning coffee at the Scandia Bakery in Sonoma where the locals go, I was intrigued when he mentioned of entering a water color competition.
"I've been turned away twice before," he said. The deadline of Sept. 8 was approaching and he set his goal to enter the 43rd annual national exposition - competition sponsored by The California Watercolors Association. Speaking on behalf of the California Watercolors Association, Iretta Hunter, said that each year the exhibit/competition accepts entries from all over the nation and the world. "This year we had over 385 artists submit their works," she said. "Each artist is allowed to submit from one to three pieces, which tallies to over 835 images that we received all total."
"It's a big show and to be accepted into the competition is a goal for me," said Murphy. I realized at that moment that not only was he serious about it, but that lesson he always tried to reach me with was always present in his life and career as an artist and even as a teacher.
His easy-going style often kept the more complex aspects of life at a distance from us kids. He confided that August day that being an artist, even for creative expression is not easy, "if you truly love it and take it seriously," he said.
"You want to do it well and make your best, best effort." Murphy said as he recalled the years he spent as a potter. It was his work as a potter in his younger days that brought him to Sonoma.
Back in the 1970's pottery, crafts and art as something functional, like textiles was in vogue. "Stuff like Macramé was a trend, back then." Murphy hoped his pottery would earn him a living. Well, with a wife and child to support just becoming a larger part of his life then, he took the advice of a friend who invited him to check out the art scene of Northern California. Leaving San Francisco and its familiarity, he and wife Rose and then toddler son Tony embraced Sonoma with its Old Mission town charm and slower pace of life.
"And the weather was so much better compared to fog in the City, where we were," he said. Little Tony would soon welcome two more siblings as the Murphy's had two daughters Katie and Monica. "I needed a stable income and teaching was the most viable for me." he said.
He was so thankful that he pursued art and got a Masters in Fine Art from California College of the Arts, then called by another name and just the one campus in Oakland. "That is another story entirely, if you want to do some background checking," said Murphy. Look up Simon J. Blattner, he was responsible for the name change." Murphy recalled Blattner who now serves on the Board of Trustees for the college, as a "pretty aggressive guy; maybe he was under a lot of pressure?" Murphy mused and noted. "At one time there was a debate between what should be considered art and what should be defined as a craft." "Seems silly now, but back then, said Murphy there was tension on that subject." Murphy hinted that Blattner could most likely go into more detail. Yet, Murphy did praise Blattner saying,"he's got an amazing art collection, like a museum." Interestingly, Blattner also serves on the Board of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.
Murphy used his GI Bill to pursue his art education. "I always knew I would do something in art." His enthusiasm picked up when he talked about his art school days at what is now called the San Francisco Art Institute on Chestnut Street. "That environment was so invigorating for me, the atmosphere of creativity, the scent of turpentine and paint thinner in the studio-classrooms, inspired me, much more so than any academic setting," he said.
He talked about his art teacher the renowned figurative movement artist Joan V. Brown. "She wanted us to capture movement and essence," so all the models she would have us sketch were dancers, dancing."
This reporter laughed, when he said, "and we students would all moan and groan, because it was hard to do." Then he looked at me and said, "remember I told you art was not instant." Murphy explained that like that impulsive adolescent I was back in the 1980's, he too had to discipline himself to learn the skills.
"Joan wanted us to learn how to capture essence and movement and not just sketch like a photograph," he said." Brown was awarded at least four awards in her career, including a National Endowment for the Arts award-grant twice, once in 1976 and again in 1980.
Murphy would go on to extend his education even further beyond art grad school by getting a degree in English. He did that so he could teach more classes and join the faculty at Napa Valley's Justin-Siena High School. (This reporter's 'Alma mater').
"I wanted my kids to go to a college prep school and so I negotiated with then Principle Brother Gary York, FSC to get Tony in and then Monica and Katie at a discount family rate, in exchange for my teaching," said Murphy.
After completing 12 years of service at Justin-Siena, Murphy followed his heart's desire to open a pub in 1992 after visiting Ireland. He also served as Mayor of Sonoma and is known by many in town. Now retired from the pub, (and from local office) he said he wants only to paint and to "pursue it seriously." Painting he noted, "you can work on it at any time. Not like pottery or crafts, that has to be done while clay is wet or strictly while in the studio." He likes painting as it is a part of his life.
This is why the watercolor competition is an important goal for Murphy. With hundreds of entries he is facing lots of competition. Hunter noted that only "80 will be selected," she said. "That a little less than ten percent." "From the 80 only 20 will be awarded." "We will be giving out prizes valued at $12,000.00.
The California Watercolors Association has a special committee that selects the juror ("judge') of the competition. "This year it will be the well-respected and nationally recognized art instructor and critic, M.E. "Mike" Bailey," she said.
Interestingly, Bailey, was attracted to art from a very early age, but was not encouraged to follow his initial interest. He did not dedicate himself to art until he was 46 years old, after spending most of his professional life in engineering and technology.
This reporter had a chance to talk to Bailey. He must examine each of the paintings in the selection in its original form to ensure that the use of watercolors is authentic and true. "Working with watercolors is not easy, it is very translucent, almost like gelatin. The color is there yet you can see through it and if you make a mistake, there are no cover ups."
What Bailey is looking for in the competition is not just talent; for he noted talent is only part of the skill of painting. The competition is looking at design, content, technique and creativity. Is the artist unique in how the paint is applied? And does that artist convey a personal touch to the painting that makes it stand out?
To put together a show/competition of this size takes about nine months or so." "This year's competition/exhibit process began in May of this year," said Hunter. She confirmed what Murphy had said about the deadline of Sept. 8. "Yes, that was the deadline and we were taking submissions right up until Midnight. "And, we actually got one submission at 11:54 PM, just four minutes before the deadline," she said.
The selections for the exhibit will be announced on Oct. 15. The artists will be notified and the various selections will later be posted on the association's web site.
When not painting or bicycling, a favorite pastime for Murphy is fly fishing, a source of inspiration. "My favorite subject is landscapes," he said. CWA’s 43rd National Exhibition will be held in January 2013, at the historic Harrington Gallery in Pleasanton, California. For details visit the California Watercolor Association web site.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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