Deirdre Murphy is an artist that merges art and science into cohesive pieces. Through her work she hopes to “evoke compassion and curiosity” two things which she feels are critical for change. As a maker-creator fellow at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Deirdre had access to the renowned collections and staff resources to inform her artistic endeavors.
In our discussion we focused on the materials she was using and how this “deep data dive” would influence her future work. Deirdre stated that her two weeks at Winterthur provided inspiration for at least three years worth of work. Initially Deirdre was drawn to the works of Audubon (early 1800’s). Audubon’s meticulously composed birds showed the combination of artistry and scientific detail that is Deidre’s focus. She wanted to explore the absence of women’s voices in science and art in the time of Audubon's work.
However, the Winterthur librarians shared with Deirdre the work of Mark Catesby from the mid-1700’s that paired native fauna with their associated flora. In his work titled Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and Bahama Islands, Catesby was the first to create an illustrated account of organisms in North America. Catesby’s second volume which depicts North American fish, reptiles and amphibians with the plants in their habitats overshadowed Deirde’s initial draw to the works of Audubon.
In our time together we spoke of her goals for a future large-scale Winterthur inspired piece that included components to “humanize the connection” and ensure that all would “feel welcome” to explore and ask questions. I also got a glimpse of another art and science fusion piece that Deirdre is working on for her upcoming show Oculus. This show is the culmination of her Bio Art residency in 2018. This residency allowed her to observe virologists at work. From this experience she has combined dot patterns, constellations, fluorescent microscopy, and bird migration patterns to create the center piece of her show. Deirdre was playful in her use of connections, scale, and color to create her final 26 foot long installation.
I hope this Q&A will capture a snapshot of the passion and curiosity that Deirdre Murphy radiates. If you’d like to meet Deirdre and see more of her work, we invite you to the closing reception of her show Oculus at Esther Klein Gallery on Thursday, September 26th (Details here).
WinH: If you had to describe yourself in one sentence, what would you say?
DM: I am a painter, teacher, gardener, mother and wife who is driven by curiosity and cares deeply about art, nature and humankind.
WinH: Your interests at Winterthur started as the absence of women's voices in Audubon's work in the 1820s and 1830s, but you adapted to Catesby's volume from the 1750s. What caused this shift, and how does this change your work?
DM: Catesby predates Audubon and thus enriches the history of men illustrating birds and botany. Catesby’s printed descriptions of birds are quirky and odd, reminiscent of Edward Gorey which is the opposite to Audubon’s delicate renditions. Catesby’s Botanical drawings are captivating with a Nordic design sensibility and composition. His inspects and reptiles drawings are superbly done. It is this sense of line, color, composition and design that interests me.
WinH: Although your work is consistently a fusion of art and science how will your Oculus show differ from your future Winterthur inspired work?
DM: The Oculus body of work has been inspired by looking at cells through the microscope and resulted in large panoramic paintings to evoke feelings of awe. For the Winterthur body of work, I will take this scale and increase it to installation scale artwork producing wallpaper to create an immersive experience complimented by both my paintings, prints as well as Catesby’s and Audubon.
[Photos: By author]
WinH: For women working in horticulture, what would you tell them to increase their impact on their audience?
DM: Collaboration with experts outside of your discipline increases your vision, depth of knowledge and expands your audience. Working with ornithologist, biologists, horticulturists, environmental scientists, archivist, art historians and librarians has enabled me to do deep data dives that have profoundly influenced my work.
WinH: What is your biggest challenge as an artist? How does that compare to the challenges of your colleagues in the sciences?
DM: Funding, time and validation are the biggest hurdles in the arts. Science is seen as a worthy pursuit in the USA whereas being an artist is not held in such high esteem especially as a woman. When asked what my profession is I get perplexed looks when I reply that I am an artist. The next question is how do you pay your bills or better yet they ask if I am a house painter. In Europe or Asia the career of an artist in main stream culture is more widely accepted and appreciated.
WinH: In public horticulture we are striving to improve our scientific communication to enact change. Your work strives to do that as well. Do you have ideas for how gardens can do this better?
DM: Putting gardens/science projects in schools makes the connections palpable for students not to mention providing food and beauty to bring home to the table. Pop up gardens in vacant lots working with city officials, prisons,shelters to promote healthy living through horticulture. Generally being more inclusive with sharing gardening knowledge to all peoples.
WinH: What is one project that is coming up that excites you more than anything else?
DM: The potential to Collaborate with Winterthur Museum on a future exhibition is especially exciting and will stretch my printmaking expertise into wallpaper design and installation based art. Winterthur’s collection is phenomenal and their faculty and staff are abundantly generous with their knowledge. My maker- creator residency was an exhilarating 2 weeks that was extremely productive & filled with inspiration.
[Photos: Deirdre Murphy]
Special thanks to Deirdre Murphy and Winterthur for their support of this featured horticulturist Q&A!
Images provided by Deirdre Murphy and Cat Meholic
Catesby materials used with permission from Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library (Catesby, Mark. The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. Savannah: Beehive Press, 1974. RBR QH41 C35a PF)