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Bayou City Art Festival’s Featured Artist Brings an Upbeat, Colorful Vibe


Home Sweet Home on the Range

Home Sweet Home on the Range

April Murphy Uses Color And Whimsy To Create Joy

by Cheryl Alexander | Art photography by Tim Murphy

For years, April Murphy, who is this year’s featured artist at Houston’s prestigious and fun Bayou City Art Festival (BCAF), made a solid living as a artist doing marketing and graphic design for a local bank. In January 2009 that bank was bought by BBBA, and Murphy was part of the 25 percent of employees who lost their jobs.

“Nothing like that had ever happened to me before,” she said. “I was stunned, and for about 15 minutes I had a pity party.”

After that quick indulgence, she decided to go get a canvas and paint. She continued, “I had received a severance, so I thought it would be great to just have some fun and play for a little while.”

When Murphy had enough paintings to sell, she approached the manager at the neighborhood coffee shop where she stopped every morning and with whom she had a friendly relationship. He allowed her to hang her art, and for the first year of what was now her new career, she sold exclusively there.

“I switched out the paintings every few months, and it was lucrative enough that I didn’t have to get a job.”

After building up her confidence and her portfolio, Murphy began to shop for other avenues to display her art. She began with small shows like the First Saturday Art Market in the Heights and JoMar Visions. These venues allowed her to gain valuable experience and taught her important lessons like what kind of art to bring to a show (e.g., originals or prints), how to price her show selections and how to hang her pieces in the space to best attract interest.

“Setting up my booth at a show is probably the most fun I have because I love watching how people respond,” she said.

Crediting her background in marketing and design, Murphy shared some important details she employs for prepping her booth. She makes sure people have space to move about, including a nice egress so that shoppers don’t feel trapped. She also makes herself approachable and engages with visitors by having stories to tell about her art and by demonstrating something they can’t discern simply by looking at her art, which is that all of her paintings glow under black light.

“When I see someone observing a painting, many times I will stand behind them and simply shine a black light on the piece they are studying,” she said. “It never fails to bring a huge smile to their face and spark a new conversation about my work.”

Murphy said that even with the mild success she was enjoying, for a couple of years she felt like there was something more; she would sit and wonder just what she needed to do to really make a name for herself. She acknowledges three distinct turning points in her career.

The first was in 2010 when she joined a Facebook group called SNArt, or Sticky Note Art, which gave its members an opportunity to create with reckless abandon. “Because not everything is worthy of painting,” Murphy said, “doing work on three-inch square sticky notes gets it out of your system and also gives the artists tons of drawing experience.”

She admits she became obsessed with this idea and every morning would finish two pieces. She began to experiment with color during this process, and her current style today was essentially born on her sticky note art. What was formerly a geometric style became more fluid and life-like on the sticky notes she created. Additionally, this process generated hundreds of templates from which she could select the ones she wanted to actually transfer to canvas.

The second turning point was in 2013 when Murphy moved into a studio space at Winter Street, which she describes as “the coolest place on Earth,” where more than 90 artists in 60 studios create, show and sell their art on every second Saturday each month and at five bigger shows annually.

“Now I can say, ‘Meet me at my studio,’ which to me equates success,” she said.

The third turning point for Murphy also occurred in 2013 when a veterinary group, the American Association of Feline Practitioners, searched the Internet for cat artists to feature at their annual conference, and Murphy’s name came up. She went to the event, set up her booth and in the first breakout session sold four paintings to one veterinarian.

“The guy in the booth next to me — not an artist — said I looked like a deer in headlights,” Murphy said.

Armed with the knowledge of a new arena where she could show and sell her work, Murphy attended five vet conferences in 2014 and 10 in 2015. Needless to say, her name and art are now very well known in the veterinary community.

And now, another milestone in her career is Murphy’s selection as the 2016 Featured Artist at the BCAF. Her success here has been a gradual and hard-earned as each of her other milestones. She first applied in 2014, when she was selected as part of the second wave of artists whose work was admitted to the show in a section at the back of the event. Then last year, she applied, and didn’t even get placed on the wait list. She admits that with that setback, she was hesitant to even apply this year.

“I’m still pinching myself,” she said. “When they called to tell me I was selected to be the featured artist, I was in total shock and my voice sounded completely deadpan when I think back on it. But then I ran upstairs and practically had a fit telling my husband. I don’t think he could even comprehend what I was saying at first.”

She attributes her newfound acceptance to a shift in attitudes.

“I think people are ready for a shot of ‘feel good,’ ” Murphy said. “I can honestly say that my art provides just that. When people enter my space and look at my art, they start smiling.” She is also profusely grateful to the BCAF board for giving her the opportunity to deliver her unique brand of happiness at this show.

Murphy’s mission through art is to bring joy, which she accomplishes through her use of color and whimsical subject matter. “I see amazing things on people’s faces when they look at my work, and I just love that.”

To learn more about Murphy and her work, visit AEM Gallery at 2101 Winter Street Studios #33, aprilmurphy.com and AEM Gallery on Facebook.

April Murphy with her cat, Isaac.

April Murphy with her cat, Isaac. www.robynarouty.com

 

April Murphy with her paintings.

April Murphy with her paintings.

 

First Caturday Bark Market

First Caturday Bark Market

 

Blue Moo Light

Blue Moo Light

 

The Night Watchman

The Night Watchman

 

Kissing Booths

Kissing Booths

 

White Linen Nighthounds

White Linen Nighthounds

 

Looking on the Bright Side

Looking on the Bright Side

 

A Tall Drink of Water

A Tall Drink of Water

 

The Treat Seat

The Treat Seat

 

Date Night

Date Night

 

Life is But a Dream

Life is But a Dream

 

Whatever Floats Your Goat

Whatever Floats Your Goat


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