‘Rags around my feet’

The man who arrives at the doors of artistic creation with non of the madness of the Muses, would be convinced that technical ability alone was enough to make an artist… what that man creates by means of reason will pale before the art of inspired beings. (Plato)

When Anthony Murphy writes that a ‘painting is nothing more of less than a series of brush strokes and of each stroke one may say: “If you like it, leave it; if yo don’t, wipe it off.” he is also referring to his life. In his search for colours that move, he speaks poignantly of much of a picture ending up ‘as rags around my feet’. Just as he tries to correct and alter his images, it seems to me, he tries to correct and alter his life. His quest to get it right, both in his art and his life, is what renders his progress both moving and plangent, Ther eis a ‘terrible beauty’ here in the inevitability of incompleteness. What he strives to achieve is something already achieved in the etheric and as he follows his labrinthine trail to rediscover it he must inevitably stumble and fall at the odd hurdle. ‘Then it seemed’, writes Plato, ‘like falling into a labyrinth: we thought we were at the finish, but our way bent round and we found ourselves as it were back at the beginning, and just as far from that which we were seeking at first.’ This ‘something’ is buried deep in his psyche, deep in racial memory handed down through a genome whose communality outstrips his mere Irish, English and Jewish bloodlines. It is an imprint which looks both back and forward in time, a learned experience of something other than of himself and other than of now. It is as though a psychological lodestone impels him to that place where something more compelling, more real is happening. A lone spirit, he brooks no interference, as his life story shows. ‘No claim on me’ might well be his personal mantra. But what does make claims on him, without his knowing it or inviting it, is that raial memory common to us all but stronger in some. What the biologist, Rupert Sheldrake, terms morphic resonance informs all our thoughts. It is as though Anthony has been here before. His is an old spirit wrestling with the ideas of a new age and finding them wanting.

Whilst memory and belied are the main protagonists in Anthony Murphy’s work, it is the sensuality which first draws the viewer. Earthy as it is, it betrays an innocence akin to Charles Baudelaire’s ‘childhood recaptured at will, childhood equipped now with man’s physical means to express itself, and with the analytical mind that enables it to bring order into the sum of experience, involuntarily amassed.’ It is this sum of experience, which brings the world into focus, lending it a clear, and at times, cruel clarity. Plato specifies that erotic mania occurs when one is reminded of beauty itself by earthly beauties and, further, that completed images exist somewhere already, a proposition which Anthony shares. ‘In fact’ he writes, ‘a quiet hope of mine is to discover, on death, that the heavenly substance from which, say, all pears draw their “pearness”, looks a bit like one of my paintings.’ In putting the viewer in contact with a forceful sensory presence, he is, like Baudelaire, sharing in the Swedenborgian concept of synaesthesia, wherin all material things are in direct correspondance to ideas in the spiritual world. Combining different modes of perception allows the artist to give voice through form and colour.

Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.

Charles Baudelaire, Correspondances

Sile Connaughton-Deeny
August 2009