A Conversation with

Tyler Murphy


In this exclusive conversation with Cassens Fine Art, Tyler Murphy explores the origins of his show, "Being Seen," and the delicate interplay between preserving artistic magic and navigating the artistic process. Drawing inspiration from Lacanian theory, Murphy articulates his quest to become “the gaze” for viewers, offering insights into the emotional resonance he seeks to evoke through his paintings. Reflecting on childhood influences and family support, he envisions a lasting legacy as a creator of spaces that invite individuals into encounters with the surprising and revelatory aspects of their desires.


His exhibit, “Being Seen” will be on display at Cassens Fine Art from March 1st to March 31st, 2024 with an artist reception on March 1st from 5-7 pm.



What sparked the creation of this show, and were there specific themes or concepts driving your work?


Honestly, I'm still in the thick of the creative process, diving headfirst into bringing the show to life. Michelle approached me last summer, and at that point, I was knee-deep in a 30-day painting challenge. My plan was to wrap that up and then transition into the show. Now, here I am, navigating this stage of the creative journey.


It's a bit early to pinpoint exactly what will emerge. Ideas are swirling in my mind, but as with any artistic endeavor, surprises are bound to unfold. I envision the show comprising of seven or eight paintings, although I'm aiming to push beyond that number.


Campfires have been a recurring theme in my recent work, and you can expect to see several of those pieces in the March show. Additionally, I plan to revisit plein air pieces I created in Hamilton with the Montana Painters Alliance last August. These paintings will capture the essence of that area, creating a connection for locals who recognize the familiar scenes.


Looking ahead, this collaboration with Cassens Fine Art opens up the opportunity to spend more time in Hamilton across various seasons. This show marks just the beginning of my journey with the gallery and the broader Montana landscape. It feels like the initial mile of a marathon, and I'm excited about the artistic journey that lies ahead. 


Could you guide us through your creative process, from initial idea to final execution? What are the key stages, and what influences or inspirations drive each piece?

My process involves a lot of resting and creating a clearing in my psychic space, so to speak. It's about anticipating the unexpected, allowing myself to be surprised by what emerges. Even during trips, I've become more attuned to the moments when my inner spirit feels summoned by a scene, a subtle recognition of truth in my desires.


My goal, both in my life and my work, is to create something that resonates with people in a way they didn't anticipate. It's like falling in love, something you don't consciously plan—it just happens.


Absolutely. You don't plan it, it just unfolds.


Exactly. All you can do is remain faithful to the summons of love and those things that uniquely call to your character and spirit. It's beautiful when that connection happens with a painting. I've had a few profound moments where people are deeply moved by my work. I remember there was a lady who was just transfixed by this piece, and she would come in day after day and just sit in front of the painting. She would ask me questions about it. I don't know what it is in that piece that was somehow speaking to her, but something was. 


There was another experience where I was talking with a guy and he and his wife. Then, all-of-a-sudden he kind of looks over my shoulder and sees this painting of mine over my shoulder and he just kind of zeroed in on it, started to kind of tear up, and he said, “Wow. When I see that, I'm 10 years old again and I'm about to go duck hunting with my dad.”


Those moments are powerful. It's what I aim to create—something that resonates and brings unexpected emotions. That's why commissions pose a challenge for me. When someone already has an idea of what they want, it eliminates the surprise element, and it feels like I'm trying to fulfill a predetermined vision. That paralyzes me as an artist.


I totally get that. I imagine it feels like trying to play the hand of God with art, controlling what should be on the canvas instead of letting the art unfold naturally. The essence of art is freedom, letting go of control and allowing the creative process to take its course.


Exactly. Every "no" I give to commissions protects the creative source, the magic of art. It's about remaining faithful to the process and not compromising that potential for surprise. It's a truth that might be unique to me, but it's one I'm committed to.


It's like navigating a dam within the creative flow, trying to be a conduit while facing constraints. I suspect that saying "yes" to certain projects might actually mean losing money if it compromises the true essence of the art.


There's an opportunity cost for every "yes." It's a balance between financial gains and preserving the magic of the artistic process. Saying "no" protects the art, and it's a decision I've learned to stand by.


We're diving into topics here that not many creatives or artists are openly discussing, but it's something that deeply resonates with most, if not all of us. This conversation is incredibly powerful, and it's making me feel so seen as a writer. I hope others reading this feel the same way because we need more discussions like this.


The use of the word "seen" is perfect. It brings to mind a paragraph from a writer I admire. In fact, I’m contemplating naming the show "Being Seen." 


It's this concept, you know, that occasionally art and experiences align with us in a way that speaks to the specificity of our desires. These moments, these objects, become powerful forces shaping our lives. They somehow reveal the truth of what we wanted, even before we consciously recognized those desires. That's what I hope my paintings can achieve. 


What you just shared provides insight into the emotions and feelings you aim to convey through your art, and it's truly beautiful. There's something larger than all of us at play here.


Absolutely, it's mysterious. It's about those moments of lying around on the couch or going on meandering drives to nowhere in particular. You find yourself feeling seen by something outside of yourself, aligning itself with the specificity of your desire.


I have this obsession with Lacanian theory, and that's where this stream of consciousness comes from. It's the idea of “the gaze” in cinema and art - something I'm pulling into my work. There's this concept explained by Michael Downs, a warehouse worker from Kansas City who's great at breaking down Lacanian theorists like Jacques Picon, Slavoj Zizek, and Todd McGowan.


Michael describes “the gaze” using an example from his life. He talks about his evening walks in the older suburb of Kansas City, Raytown, where, during certain moments, it transforms back to its 1980s self. It's like his entire environment takes his desire into account, configuring itself to look the way he wants it to. It's cinematic, feeling like he's stepped into one of his favorite '80s movies. What's surreal is that these experiences are accompanied by a feeling of being seen, not by people but by a free-floating gaze from various spots.


This “gaze” is present in the shadows, a storm drain, or even an unlit garage. It's as if objects and the environment itself are responding to his desire. “The gaze” is when objects look at you, causing a connection with your desire. It's a powerful concept that adds depth to the artistic experience.


Wow, that is incredibly insightful. What struck me when you were sharing that is you are, in a way, “the gaze” for people who experience your art. Take that woman who comes in, sits in front of your painting every day, or the guy transported back to duck hunting with his dad. You've somehow aligned with their desires, even if you're unaware of the specifics. You become the gaze for them in those moments. I don't want to speak for you, but that concept is incredibly powerful.


Oh, it's cool. That part where he talks about “the gaze” beaming from dark, shadowy spots resonates with me. I realize that when I'm drawn to a painting, it's often those dark shapes, amidst lighter colors, that captivate me. It's the unique forms of dark hues that draw me in. I've never quite thought of it as if there's something beaming from within those dark shapes, inviting me and reflecting what I appreciate in life.


So through that lens comes the rest of this interview. Do you have any personal stories or experiences that influence the creation of any specific pieces? And how does this experience shape your artistic expression overall?


You know, what I've been reflecting on recently is my fascination with caricatures when I was very young. I was transfixed by caricatures of my parents done in Las Vegas. I wonder what it was about that experience that impacted me and inspired me to delve into caricature art. I got numerous books on becoming a caricature artist and even set up a stand as a 13-year-old, creating caricatures for money, which seems both audacious and terrifying now.


Looking back, I wonder if the allure of caricatures lies in their ability to distill the essence of a person. How could a caricature feel more like my mother than her actual self? It's only now that I'm considering how influential that experience might have been throughout my life. Perhaps that's what I aim to do in my paintings—take the complexity of a scene and distill it to its essence. Clyde Aspavig, known for his Montana paintings, seems to achieve this, capturing the entire experience of living in Montana in essential scenes and moments.


I love that you bring up the power of caricatures and painting, how they transport and distill things down to what truly matters. I had a similar experience with a caricature of my younger sister and me hanging in our bedroom. Looking back, it's fascinating how we unmistakably recognized ourselves. It speaks to the power of art, revealing the essence of a scene or person while maintaining their integrity.


Absolutely. Whether it's writers, preachers, or artists, there's a constant quest to distill the essence of what we're communicating. We all talk about the good news, but the essence of it is still a topic of ongoing discussion and exploration.


You just touched on it a little bit when you were talking about the darkness or the darker colors, but I was wondering if we could go back to that for a second and if you could elaborate on the significance of specific colors that you use in your works and how they contribute to the overall narratives of your pieces.


Over the course of my 10-12 years as a painter, I think that probably different motifs, different times of the day, and different subjects have been my focus lately. This is kind of a trend. Lately I've been  interested in the color of the sky changing from night to day. If I got up early, it would be right around sunrise but that doesn't happen that often.


The Tyler Murphy sunrise paintings might be the most valuable in the end because they'll be very rare. But I enjoy studying the gradients in the sky and how much brighter the sky can be than what you think it should be at that time of day, depending on where you're looking. The way that as the sun is setting, it brings everything that's in the landscape into a nice harmony. A lot of times it's warm, but there are certain colors that I really like, like transparent oxide brown, and some raw umbers that are really beautiful within the shadows.


To get back to your question about the shadows, if you look at paintings by John Singer Sargent, I'm always drawn to the deep crevices in the folds of fabric and how he pokes in these dark values. That is what causes us to see anything. We're always looking for those points of contrast, and the lighter values around these darker spots is how we see anything.


One of the things that I'm most grateful about from my life as an artist is that there have been so many times where a concept suddenly broke through, and I understood and it completely changed the way that the world disclosed itself to me phenomenologically - where all of a sudden, you just see angles in a way that you never noticed before, or you see the difference. You're more attentive to the soft and the hard edges of the building in front of you with a tree behind it that's got leaves and branches and that contrast between a hard edge and a soft edge, and then the background color.


My roommate took a drawing class, and I was trying to teach him a few things outside of the class. I was trying to help him to understand how linear perspective works. As I'm explaining things, he says, "I gotta stop, I gotta go lay down for a bit," because it was as if a dimension of reality that has always been there is suddenly breaking through and disclosing itself to him.


It’s like those videos of people who are colorblind and they put on special glasses and suddenly now they're able to see colors that they've never seen before in their life, and they just break down crying. Occasionally you kind of get those moments with painting. There have been four or five times where it distinctly happened with me, and hopefully there's a handful more that will happen during my life. Those are those little carrots along the way that keep you going too. It's an incredible feeling. It's almost euphoric in a way when you experience it. You can't really go back in a way


I remember with a couple of these moments where I was overcome with this feeling of, “I could paint anything,” and also a relief of like, "Oh, my God. I'm not gonna have to struggle for the rest of my life, banging my head against the wall to just wrench out these paintings from my guts. I have this knowledge that now is a part of me that can almost work through me in an almost effortless fashion." And so I'm really grateful for that.


Are there any underlying stories or connections, or are there any recurring symbols or motifs in your artworks that hold special meanings, and what inspired their inclusion?


The campfire. Ironically, I said yes to a commission a couple of years ago, but it really was a project that I wanted. My friend here in town, he and his family owned several restaurants, and he had just built this beautiful new brewery out on the west end with this big fireplace. He wanted a piece done for it, something of a campfire featuring him and his friends out in nature around a campfire. So he gave me a handful of different photos from past hiking trips, and I worked on it extensively, doing various thumbnails. It was the first campfire scene that I'd done. I enjoyed it so much, and people responded to it. They really liked it. So that has become one of those motifs that's just popular right now, and I love it too. I host a lot of campfires at my house.


I have maybe two things that I own that I will never get rid of, unlike many other things in my life. One of them is a rocking loveseat that was always at my grandparents' house. My dad ended up with it, and then I took it. I take a lot of naps on that thing. The other one is my fire pit. It’s a huge cast iron pot that I got from my dad, and it's the best fire pit in all of Billings. I have a few paintings that come from pictures I've taken of me and my friends sitting around that fire pit.


After I started doing these paintings with campfires, I realized that even though I'm not necessarily a person who is always out there camping and doing fires along a lake somewhere, gathering friends around a fire is something that I'm doing constantly. It feels appropriate to me.


I think it feels appropriate in the larger scheme of things too because gathering around a fire is so primal and inherently natural to us as humans. It's something we've been doing since the beginning of time—gathering around the warmth and the light, being with one another in community and sharing stories. It’s something that feels natural to us and because of that, I think it's a really significant inclusion in your work.


To switch gears, time and place can significantly influence art. What specific moments in your life or the world impact the creation of your artwork?


Well, definitely my interest in Lancanian theory, which is not very popular. People hate Freud, and yet he's in our vernacular, whether we want to pay any attention to him or not; he's pretty influential. So yeah, I guess that would be probably what has shaped and influenced my work more than anything in the last handful of years. It's like an annoying addiction or something.


We talked about your process a lot. But could you describe the materials and methods you employ in your pieces and how you believe that they enhance the intended message?


I mostly use oil paints on linen. Usually, the linen is glued down to some kind of a hard substrate. For the last 10 years, I have mostly been using oil paints. I love the way that you can have thin passages, kind of a watercolor-y type feel in some areas, and then yet you can build up the texture and go really thick. It has the potential for you to then glaze back over the various layers. It creates this mystery of, “How exactly did he do all of that?” 


I'm trying to create something that attests to the mysterious moments of our lives when we are suddenly seized by something outside of ourselves. Those are inherently kind of mysterious things and experiences that are hard to ever put into words. Painting is a kind of medium that is another way of coping with those sublime moments. The more mystery layers can add is maybe somehow accomplishing something similar or it's repeating whatever mysterious thing is happening in the world itself.


Sometimes I stop painting and then all of a sudden, I realize that an hour or two has gone by. I know I created and I made all these decisions while this was happening, but I don't know exactly how I got from the beginning of this painting to where it is now.

Could you share some insights into your upbringing and how it might have influenced your journey as an artist?


That moment of coming across those caricatures was pretty impactful. But this is something that I'm trying to figure out myself too. Both my grandmothers were interested in art, and encouraged that part in me. My parents have also always been very supportive of my interest in art. Almost everybody in my family is self-employed, for better or worse. Valuing autonomy runs in the family, and pursuing art allows me autonomy in my day-to-day life.


Can you take me back to the very first moment when you picked up a paintbrush? What was that experience like, and how did it further spark your interest in art?


The thing that just popped into my mind was when I was maybe 12 or 13; my mom had somehow made a connection with a guy who was doing caricatures. We got together one or two times, and I remember setting up during the Fourth of July, both doing caricatures. I have to admit, I was pretty bad at them. I didn't know or maybe didn't care, but I had courage and that's kind of amazing to think about now.


I remember him telling me, “A confident line in the wrong place is more accurate than a shaky line in the right place.” That really stuck with me for a long time. Making those confident marks became a thing for me. That's what pops into my head – those moments where I could see what he was talking about. It kind of spurred on the continuation of my interest in art. 


Who has been a constant source of encouragement and support throughout your career as an artist?


My grandma. She passed away a couple of years ago, but when I was 23, I opened a gallery in Red Lodge and lived with my grandparents for three years. Eventually, I moved the gallery to Billings. I owned and ran this gallery, creating my own work and selling other people's art for the last 10 years of my life. Last year, a little over a year ago, I downsized from owning the gallery to just having a private studio, and then I started working with a handful of different galleries, Cassens being one of them.


My grandma, during my early years as an artist, in high school and beyond, always made sure I was taking art classes. When I had my gallery, there was always a nice warm meal at home and free rent. She'd come down, watch the shop, and tidy it up. She was incredible with home decor and interior design, which really helped to make it what it was.


In what setting do you find your creativity flows most naturally? You mentioned a little bit that you do some plein air, and then also you have a studio. Where is your creative sweet spot?


Yeah, it's both. It's always this oscillating between being out in nature and then sitting in the studio with time and energy to reflect on those experiences of being out in nature.


Looking across the spectrum of art history, is there an artist, living or deceased, that you deeply admire and perhaps even consider a role model? And what about their work resonates with you?


Van Gogh would probably be one of the artists that I admire the most. Just because he really only painted for about 10 years. He was creating from this point of "I just have to do this.” I don't know if you've ever seen some of the movies on him; the movie Loving Vincent is a really beautiful one. Every scene is painted. There's just some really beautiful lines, and it kind of causes you to question how he actually died. Before he died, he said, "Well, I've done this of my own accord, and don't go looking for anybody else." Almost like he was maybe covering up for someone else. That film does a really good job of showing these possibilities without ever itself taking a stance.


The other artist that I am tempted to say, even though I haven’t really studied him that much, is Picasso. Only because I recently came across, in studying Lacanian theory, a quote from him that he apparently said, "I do not seek, I find." I don't know if the point that this person was kind of making in psychoanalysis and like with the idea of the unconscious and whatnot is that which surprises us. So it's not a striving after things. It's more this kind of opening up yourself to receive. You get the sense that that's what he was doing. Because he created so much, and a lot of it was just these quick little pieces but he was just kind of responding to something within himself.


My last question for you is, when considering your artistic body of work, what aspirations do you hold for the legacy you'll leave behind, and how do you envision your impact on the art world and the stories people will tell about your contributions?


I don't know. Maybe apart from even being an artist, because there's sometimes where I think, I don't know if being an artist is what I want to always necessarily do or kind of be. But I know that what I want to do with my life is be a person who creates spaces, moments, and objects that invite people into the potentiality of an encounter with something that's surprising to them and revelatory with regards to their longings in life.


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