A recent graduate of MSU School of Art, Aaron Murphy is taking his skills in technical drafting and applying them to three dimensional art. Aaron grew up in San Antonio, Texas where he was introduced to woodworking by his father, who built all the family’s furniture. He also dabbled in welding and woodworking through classes in high school. After graduation, Aaron found work right out of school as a computer draftsman at an engineering firm that designed security systems for prisons. After working for around seven years as a draftsman, Aaron moved to Bozeman and returned to school where he turned his attention to sculpture. Upon completing University, Aaron became involved with Others: Bozeman Contemporary Art Coalition, a group of recently graduated artists who share a collective space and organize critiques and exhibitions. I caught up with him at his house to talk about his work and life after school.
“Cubic Knot,” steel, 4’ x 3’6” x 2’6”, 2011
Sculpture is kind of a loose term for 3D art. How would you define your current work?
I have two main bodies of work that I consider separate from each other. Obviously, they’re intrinsically tied to each other but the motivation and purpose behind them is drastically different. Machine is part of my interactive body of work. That would be the most broad term that I would give it: interactive work. One of the main motivations behind it is to get people to have a more intimate connection with art in general. The best way to do that is to get people to touch something. It seems like the most obvious way to break a barrier, and by doing that, you make it a more intimate experience, rather than just looking at something.
The other body of my work is more personal, less about the viewer. The interactive work is more about society and social issues. I use the interactive art to answer my questions about those social issues. Whereas, the other work, the more static stuff, that’s all more about myself, my time to just answer questions about myself, not necessarily about art, but myself in general. It’s about problems I’ve had in my life and it’s a way to deal with things.
“Pyramidas III,” steel, 3’6” x 1’ x 5” 2010
What kind of thoughts go into the pre-planning stages of your work? Do you draw them out, or is it more of an organic process?
There’s a lot of planning (laughs). I do a lot of planning. It was always kind of a thing during sculpture classes. A lot of people had issues that I would plan so much. I would spend a lot of time in class just thinking, planning, testing little things, not actually even starting until several weeks into the project. They said, “You need to be more loose.” It was always an interesting thing to hear people get so upset on how I never let myself go.
Is that your inner draftsman coming out?
I think so. You know, it really is. I spent the better part of a decade as a draftsman making plans. It makes sense. It’s also the way I’m wired. That’s just the way my brain works. More than anything, is that it’s just the kind of work that I do. It just requires it. I couldn’t just wing that. With a lot of my interactive work, things actually have to move. You just have to plan. I draw all of my sculptures in CAD, three-dimensionally. I actually make a set of plans for myself that I print out and build the piece based off the plans.
“Moment III,” steel, 18” x 12” x 10”, 2011
So, your history as a draftsman really comes into play in your work?
Yeah, I think it does, as much as I hated being a draftsman when I quit. It’s less because I was a draftsman; its more because of who I am. I originally became a draftsman because of who I am.
What’s the most challenging part about creating three-dimensional art?
Curves. I have a very 3D mind. I can imagine an object and build it in my head. I can see it, and rotate it. As soon as I start introducing curves, or concave and convex shapes – holy shit – that’s when it gets really hard. That’s why most of my work is very straight lines, because I have a hard time with that. At some point I will investigate it. With my two separate bodies of work, that would definitely be something that would fall into the personal kind of work, exploring the idea of curves. Why is it that I can imagine straight angles or lines pretty easily, but not curves? At some point I’ll have a body of work that explore that.
“I’m Sorry,” 18 gauge sheet metal, 1’8” x 1’4” x 2’, 2012
If you could design a piece of art for any major company, organization or even a country and make whatever you wanted, what entity would you choose to make this object for?
If it could be anything, I would probably say the United States, for the federal government, to be in one of the chambers, House of Representatives or the Senate, somewhere having to do with the day-to-day running of our government. They probably wouldn’t like it all. I feel pretty strongly about my political beliefs, and I have a strong belief in the United States. I really love the idea of it, and it’s completely off-course right now. Pretty much everyone thinks that, at this point, there are some very simple things that should be done that would drastically change the way our government is run. My work would be something that would speak to that, something that would speak to reducing government, speaking to what the government’s role should be in its citizens’ lives.
Can you talk about the relationship between the modern man and modern machine? How do you address that in your work?
I was talking about a lot of the motivation behind “Machine.” A lot of the motivation behind the physical part, like the tangible part of the machine, the way it’s constructed, the aesthetics, the way I built it, are motivated by that idea. I feel like we are just getting lost. This work is about what has happened to us since the Industrial Revolution. Before that, our surroundings were built by us. Everything was either created by us or by nature. Now, it’s getting more-and-more less industrial. We have altered the way that we make our objects. Everything has become much more detached from us, like our phones. These things are with us all the time. We touch them, use them, listen to them and talk to them all the time. No part of our phones is from anywhere remotely close to us. We’ve never been to the places that most of the stuff comes from, and probably never even heard of most of the places where these things are made. Even the design of these are coming from somewhere detached from us. Everything is getting that way. I think there’s danger in that. I can see it in pottery. People around here love handmade pottery, because it’s something that came from here. The motivations behind a bowl are a perfect example. A “typical” bowl is not handmade. It’s mass-produced, designed by someone who’s never lived in Montana. A local handmade ceramic bowl, everything about that bowl is centered around here, around where I have chosen to live, where I interact. I think that is really important in more than just our bowls. The chairs and tables we sit at, the houses that we live in. I think it’s important to keep those ties closer, not just for comfort, but for the objects themselves. How it will make the objects be better, how they will serve their purpose better if they have a closer tie to the surroundings they reside in. It’s just so difficult to build something somewhere for a different place that you’ve never been to and know nothing about.
“Machine,” 18 gauge sheet metal, clear acrylic tubing, 10w40 motor oil, copper, 5’7” x 7’7” x 4’6”, 2011 (photo by: Tom Murphy)
For me, it’s about learning, learning processes and learning how to do things. It’s not an immediate thing. It’s not, “Just drop everything, and build it yourself.” It’s a general trend that needs to happen in all societies. If we try to stop or slow our current trend, our surroundings will slowly become less detached and become more intimate.
You said that you used to paint and draw a lot. Do you still find yourself doing that?
I draw a lot, sketch, that kind of stuff. I don’t make drawings though. I’m not very good at making big drawings. I’m so detail-oriented, it would take forever. I would freak out over every hair I draw. I consider my work sculpture, but pretty much any work I do in the future will be considered sculpture. I’ve done a lot of thinking: What is sculpture? What is not? I really feel like everything is sculpture, and everything can be considered sculpture. Painting can be considered sculpture. Anytime you do a drawing, you’re adding dimension to it. I’m very open to all kinds of art. I don’t want to feel limited in what I can do based on what kind of an artist I consider myself. That’s something that is just really hard for me to understand. People that want to be, for instance, specifically, a ceramic artist. They want to be a ceramic artist, so any idea they have, if it can’t be made in ceramics, they toss it to the ants. If that’s the case, then the focus is completely in the wrong place. The focus within your art can be an odd place. A lot of my work is made out of steel. That’s what I’ve enjoyed doing recently. Most of my ideas have been best suited for steel construction. You couldn’t make them out of wood. I see myself changing a lot in the future, doing all kinds of different stuff: rock sculptures and of course wood as well.
What are your plans for the next year or so?
I just graduated in May. I’m not real sure. I’m working right now for Brandner Design. We build all kinds of stuff — anything made out of wood or metal, furniture, architectural elements, hardware, like drawer pulls, light fixtures, really all over the board. It’s really good experience. I’m learning a ton about how to build things. It was hard when I first started. During art school, I was a studio tech for two and a half years, and constantly being asked how to do things. I was teaching the technical things in class. Then I went to this job, and I went all the way to the bottom. I just went from knowing everything to knowing nothing. I was asking questions all the time and fucking up. It’s been really hard, but really good, because these new techniques are going to help me with my art dramatically. Anything that can facilitate my ideas, I’m all about it. There’s a lot of other things I want to do. Grad school is an eventuality for me. I would want to go to grad school at some point, but just not right now. I’ve got a lot ideas and projects I’d like to do. Then maybe in the future when I’m feeling kind of dry with my art, feeling discouraged, maybe that will be a better time for me to go to grad school, but who knows? I love Bozeman, and it will be exceptionally difficult to leave here. I find it an incredibly inspirational place to live.
How has being involved with Others helped your art? Has that environment helped you with your art, or maybe, what have you enjoyed about it outside of the school realm?
I think it’s critical for any artist to have a community. The number one thing recently graduated artists say is that it’s really hard to make work after you get out, because you have nothing to make it for, and then you get no feedback. When you’re in school, it’s just so easy. You get deadlines and when you finish, you get people to talk about your art. That’s just raw fuel. You finish a critique, and you say, “Yes! Let’s go! I want to make the next one!” It gives you a destination with your work, and that’s the number one positive thing to get from Others. It’s just having other people to talk with about your work, and to talk to them about their work as well, also to give deadlines and critiques. Every two weeks, somebody else is supposed to have something that they’ve been working on that everyone critiques. Outside the academic setting, that just doesn’t happen. You get no real feedback. At an art show, no one ever comes up to you and really talks about your work. Its usually just like, “That’s nice.” And you think, “Well that was worthless. Thanks!” It’s hard to put so much of yourself into something and let it sit in the corner.
“Machine,” 18 gauge sheet metal, clear acrylic tubing, 10w40 motor oil, copper, 5’7” x 7’7” x 4’6”, 2011 (photo by: Tom Murphy)
I was talking to somebody, and they told me that they kind of had a problem with what Others was doing. They didn’t like what we were doing, because they felt like we were encouraging people to kind of be stagnant. Like as if to be associated with Others was some sort of end goal. That is not what we are about at all. It’s not supposed to be anything like that. It is supposed to be a transitional thing. Somewhere a person can go right after graduation to help in the period of time between when they finish school and when they move on to the next thing.
You can see more of Aaron’s work on his website.
The photo’s of Machine were taken by Tom Murphy.