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We Chat to Notts Artist Angelo Murphy About His Fascinating Oil Paintings and Winning an Amateur Jackson’s Prize

22 June 22 interview: Alex Kuster

Nottingham-based artist Angelo Murphy has a special way of capturing the mundane and making it beautiful. His still life pieces are reminiscent of Baroque paintings from the seventeenth century, only he’ll throw in a tin of golden syrup to remind us that this is, in fact, the 21st. The soft colours in his oil paints draw your eyes in, giving you a hazy sense of serenity, and his stunning piece Citrus with Blue Paper has just won the Amateur Jackson’s Painting Prize. We caught up with him to hear about his creative journey so far… 

How did you get into art? 
Like most artists, I can’t remember not being excited by drawing. Even now, there is something magical related to the aroma of a new sketchbook and the smell of paints and pencils. The sheer anticipation and potential to create something is very palpable. Thankfully, I don’t think that ever goes away. 

Despite going through the education system, I do consider myself completely self-taught. Everything I know about painting I’ve discovered for myself. I think that’s true for a lot of artists, because every artist wants to achieve different results so that journey is unique to them. 

I work full-time at Nottingham Lakeside and paint every opportunity I can in my spare time. It can be a real challenge after work to muster up the energy to go into the studio, but it’s always worth it. The key is to have balance and routine. I paint in oil on canvas and have settled for a studio at home; after experiencing studios in large, shared buildings with other artists, I feel this best suits my time constraints and practice.

You truly have the power to make everyday, mundane objects look so soft and beautiful. What inspires your work?
I think the first spark of inspiration comes from observation. I don’t wait for inspiration to strike; I am constantly looking for it. If I see a particular shadow or a quality of light hitting an object, I’ll make a note of it or try and remember what it was that caught my attention. There are certain qualities of light and shadow that excite me, that drive me on to try and capture and recreate in a still life. I’m trying to create small dramas on canvas. With every new composition, the challenge is achieving this successfully. Still life is a genre that doesn’t get the gravitas it deserves and that’s exactly what inspires me and why I embrace it.

What artists do you draw inspiration from?
The Dutch still life painters of the seventeenth century absolutely blow me away! Willem Claesz Heda, Clara Peeters, Pieter Claesz to name a few. But also Vermeer - his painting, Woman with a Water Jug, is something I never get tired of looking at. Artists from this period were pioneers of observation, of looking at light and shadow and the rendering of colour modulation; it’s breath-taking. They knew all the secrets as well - shadow boxes, light boxes, camera obscura and all sorts of wonderful gadgets that assisted them during the execution of great compositions. What I attempt to do is explore a contemporary response to what I love to look at. An interpretation and appreciation of the Baroque and chiaroscuro are never far from my compositions, but at the same time you want the work to be relevant, hence the golden syrup.

Nottingham has always had a vibrant art scene for as long as I can remember

Your piece, Citrus with Blue Paper, just won the Amateur Jackson’s Painting Prize. How did that feel?
I do feel ambivalent towards any kind of competition as it’s all very subjective, but it does create opportunities. Just taking part gets your work seen. If you’re a visual artist, then that’s what it’s all about, to get the work seen. The Jackson’s Painting Prize is a very well- respected competition, open to any artist globally. This year they received almost 9,000 entries, so I was happy to have made the shortlist. Winning one of the prizes has been a positive experience and has heightened my profile as an artist. It’s nice to a receive validation for something you love doing and I would encourage other artists to enter.

What do you think is notable about the Nottingham art scene?
Nottingham has always had a vibrant art scene for as long as I can remember. Fortunately, there has been a long tradition of affordable studio space to choose from, which has allowed artist groups to flourish. Sadly, these spaces are becoming harder to find but they are there, and they underpin a very eclectic mix of talent. What is important for Nottingham is that people have access to great exhibitions and aren’t discouraged by price barriers. Nottingham Lakeside Arts has an excellent free programme of events, as does Nottingham Contemporary.

Do you have any favourite Nottingham artists?
This is an easy one for me. I love Mat Collishaw’s work. Although Collishaw’s practice is now in London, he does hail from Nottingham, and in fact studied here for a while. I was particularly inspired by his work Last Meal on Death Row, Texas, a series of beautiful C-type photographs where he’d recreated the last meals of condemned men in the style of Baroque vanitas. They are so dark and poignant and incredibly moving. I still look at them online occasionally just to remind myself.


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