by Yolanda Wysocki
Carole Murphy’s work appears in the 2014 Summer issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices and visions. Carole embodies creativity; she is energetic and evolving, creating and collaborating in many arenas of her life, changing her world, impacting many artists. She is not only a sculptor but also a teacher. She is completing her term as president of Pacific Northwest Sculptors, and is organizing the remodeling of a building in Northwest into 30,000 square feet of artists’ studios, expected to be available in December 2014. Here are snippets from our conversation:
Looking at her early sculpture, I was amazed when Carole told me she had never taken art classes. When she was 40 she decided to get a degree in psychology, based on the work she had been doing. Later, realizing she didn’t want to keep working in the field, she asked herself what she wanted to do instead. “I always thought I could sculpt, but was afraid to discover I couldn’t.” She decided to work at sculpting for an hour every day. Slowly, while she ignored all resistance, the art eventually started to flow. Going deep into the process, she would sculpt for twelve-hour stretches, ignoring all bodily needs! She has been at it for 23 years now, never imagining her life turning out like this.
Having started in realism and wax, she was judgmental about abstract until she began to understand it. “Working in abstract gives me much more freedom; realism was a tighter way of working. Before I was trying to represent and duplicate; now I try to show what it feels like, what it’s about, the essence, and hope it speaks to others” She rarely works in realism anymore.
You have a vision and then ask yourself, how are you going to get there?
That is the essence of how Carole works. The starting point may be an idea, image, dream, or simply the look of a piece – she has no shortage of ideas – then she starts to play. “Whatever is going on inside – whether it’s joy or the ecstasy of being, spaciousness, or some detailed introspection – also shows up in the piece,” says Carole.
Her studio has several rooms with numerous shelves full of found nature objects and items that students brought her. It’s not hard to imagine how she manages to have 25-30 pieces developing at the same time. There is plenty of inspiration and possibility to feed her imagination, curiosity and creativity here, and everywhere she goes.
But it’s not just play; she is always learning, researching, stretching, and experimenting. Hearing about aerated cement online, she decided to try it and has been playing with it ever since; or pouring white cement into balloons, painting recycled paper clay, molding it, and seeing what it – and she – can do. When a piece seemed to call for a metal coat, she searched until she found a process that incorporates a metalizing gun that melts steel (at 6,000 degrees), so she could spray it onto her pieces.
“That is what you have to do to keep the sculpture alive and evolving. It’s the process that is so exciting.”
Walking around her studio, I see her students’ work takes up at least one wall. Carole expresses as much energy and enthusiasm for her students’ work as she does about her own.
Carole said, “I’m not interested in students going where I want them to go; I start with whatever they bring or are interested in and then I help them into that space beyond where they think they can go. I ask them where they stop liking it, or it feels wrong, and then help them work through it … same thing I do for myself. You have to be tuned into the piece and inside yourself to the place that knows, and everyone knows. Once you go to that place you never forget it. You can always access it again. It’s very important that I listen to what they want.”
A Devastating Turning Point
I wondered about the source of her abundant energy and optimism, her enthusiastic involvement in the art world, and asked her about it. Carole responded:
“I had been going through a really hard time that had lasted for years. The love of my life took his own life. After five years of mourning that encompassed my life, I was grasping for anything that could offer me a way out of it. I thought perhaps a change might offer me an exit door. I moved to Portland, Oregon from Vermont, with no relief.
“Emotionally, I fell down once again and decided that I wasn’t going to get up this time, that I wasn’t going to hope for anything, any more. Giving up all hope doesn’t sound like a positive thing to do in this culture. But giving it up was the best thing I could have done. When I stopped hoping for tomorrow, I was left with only today, and my past.
“I found myself looking at who I was in the past. My past was riddled with what I have come to call ‘suffer well’ chips. I had been adding them up and subconsciously calling myself a good person because I had suffered so well. I had acquired quite a mountain.
“Having let go of the future by giving up all hope, I then let go of the past by letting the mountain of ‘suffer well’ chips leave. In response, I started waking up in the morning to ecstasy for no other reason than being alive.”
Finally, Last Words to Artists
“Just Play. Do it and play. Artists often work alone in our studios, but I say collaborate, cooperate, support each other. If you work together there will be more art; if you make more art, then there will be more call for art. Connect to others and make it happen. Art is about changing the world.”
And Carole walks her talk. Her life is art.
Carole Murphy’s sculptures have been shown nationally in such places as the Maryhill Museum; the Coos Bay Art Museum; the Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland, Oregon; New Mexico Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico; the Robert Paul Gallery in Burlington, Vermont; KGB Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona; and Brueton La in West Hollywood, California. Moving from bronze figurative realism, Murphy’s art has morphed into a more organically fundamental aspect of form using cement, steel and mixed media. Carole also writes poetry and essays and is presently writing a book. Find more at her website.
Yolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for more than 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51 years old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream.