Interview with pop surreal artist Rebecca Murphy

Rebecca Murphy is an Australian born pop surrealist, painting mostly myths, monsters, ladies, luchadors, and pop culture love. Imbued with wry humour and a sensual attitude, her figurative paintings oscillate between saccharine and grotesque, alluring and unsettling in equal measure. Rebecca’s work peels back the skin of her subjects and allows the observer to literally crawl inside. Like a lesson in biology muscle tissue and internal workings are exposed to reveal uncommon truths of familiar stories both old and new.

Her style is akin to East Asian tissue frescoes and the narratives she exposes will offend as it questions what you thought you knew about the world around you, and there lies the reason her work has been published, exhibited, and awarded around the world. Her ability to present and challenge what has been right in front of us all along.

Represented by Just Another Agency in Melbourne, Australia, Murphy is addicted to caffeine and adventure, shares her studio with a pet lizard called Trouble, and can open a bottle of bubbly with a sword.
Hello dear Rebecca, please, tell us how did you find the artist inside you? How long have you been doing art? Is art something that you always wanted to do?

I’ve always been creative. I became passionate about the meanings behind drawings when I was seven, discovered that it was a way to connect with other people when I was ten, decided it was what I wanted to do when I grew up when I was eleven, and learnt firsthand how powerful and impactful creativity could be when I was sixteen. When I was seventeen I went to university to study graphic design. But I found my classmates to be a cut-throat, dog eat dog bunch, and that’s not who I am or who I wanted to be, so after a year and a half I left. Completely disheartened with the idea of a creative career, I tried my hand at a number of different things – ice-cream merchandiser, animal tamer, bouncy castle bouncer, tech support, mechanic – but being good at something and feeling fulfilled by it are two very different things. I became increasingly frustrated, miserable, and unfulfilled, until one morning I woke up and decided I’d had enough. So I quit my job, moved house, reset my personal life, and started doing what came naturally. I’ve been a professional artist for 7 years now.

What was / is your major influences? Other artists, books, movies, music or any other media....What inspires you to create your artworks?

As far as artistic influence goes, I’m particularly fond of the Pre-Raphaelites, ukiyo-e, and art nouveau. And pop surrealism, obviously!
I find my inspiration everywhere. I’ve always gone through phases of intense interest in certain topics - psychology, iridology, sex, religion, astrophysics, philosophy, palmistry, certain animals and plant life, just to name a few. These old fascinations often reach forward and influence my work today. Those who know me best find autobiographical references in my work all the time, wether they were intentional or otherwise. And I’ve always loved stories - fairytales, myths, books, movies.

How does "a normal day of artist" in your life look like?

Wake up sometime between 10am and midday, check in on my studio and reptile, check social media and emails, a little exercise to get the blood pumping, throw on some music or tv for background noise and get straight in to whatever project I’m working on currently. I’ll take an hour or two about halfway through the day to get outside, do chores, talk to friends, whatever. I’ll do some paperwork or social media stuff, and then back to creating. I might switch up what project I’m working on, depending on how it’s flowing. Start the day painting, transition to sketching and research. After a few more hours I might go for a night swim, but I’ll probably work through the night. I try to go to bed before 3am but its not that unusual to realise it’s dawn. Like today. And yesterday.
What’s your background? Are you self-taught artist or did you study art? Do you think an art education is important or imperative for anybody wishing to be an artist? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages that you have encountered throughout your career with/without the formal training of the Art Academy?

I’m largely self taught, but I did study a little - a year and a half studying graphic design at university straight out of high school, 7 months visual art at TAFE, and a brief brief flirtation with visual arts at university again. TAFE was more hands on than university, and I learn best by doing. Do I think a formal education is imperative as an artist? No. Do I think it helps? Sure. But everyone learns differently, and each artist needs to find what works best for them. If you’re not sure, pick up some classes on the side. You might thrive in a directed environment, or you might be better off seeking a mentor, or mainlining youtube tutorials. When it comes to education, passion for the subject and a drive to learn are more important than anything else.
What fascinates you the most about surrealism / pop surrealism / contemporary art / lowbrow art? What themes do you pursue, what surrealism mean to you?

I was introduced the concept of art as a tool for psychological analysis when I was 7 years old. Even then I loved the idea that the things you create can hold deeper truths that you can consciously express. I think that I’m drawn to pop surrealism because of that - it touches on the personal weirdness, the deeper undercurrents. It’s not just pretty or just dark, it’s both sides of the coin at the same time.
The themes I pursue in my work vary with time and subject. There’s always an underlying emotional current - I find it very difficult not to paint what I feel. I remember I was surprised when Bridge Stehli (a fantastic artist, check out her smokemon series) told me she considered my work to be dark at an exhibition a few years ago. I hadn’t really considered the work I was exhibiting to be dark before then, but I’ve since embraced that aspect of my creativity more wholly.
How would you describe your style?

In art-speak, I’d describe my work as pop surreal, figurative focused paintings, heavily influenced by Ukiyo-e and Art Nouveau, sweet yet dark in subject, and inspired by pop culture and mythology. But when people ask, I usually just say I paint monsters, myths, naked ladies, luchadors, and pop culture love.
What do you hope the viewer will take away from your art?

Something. An emotional reaction. A little bit of inspiration. A question. An answer. I hope that my work affects some kind of change for the better, no matter how small. But art is so subjective, people are going to come away with interpretations and reactions I didn’t necessarily intend. That’s not a bad thing either, I actually think it’s kind of wonderful.
What do you love most about creating and being an artist? What does “being creative” mean to you?

The thing I love most is being suspended in the creative flow state. It’s like what I imagine transcendental meditation is. When I’m in the flow state, I’m fully immersed in the world but nothing can touch me. It’s like standing in the eye of a storm.
Being creative is being alive.
Can you describe your typical workflow when you’re working on your art? What are your tools of trade? What medium do you most often use and why?

It starts with a hastily sketched out idea. Then research, even if I think I know the subject well. I find it opens up new avenues of thought, gives me inspiration, though sometimes it gets a bit tangential and the piece can take on a whole new direction. If I’m not satisfied with the sketch I’ll put it aside for a hours, days weeks, months, however long it takes for my subconscious to figure it out. Everything after that is bringing it to fruition, wether it’s a painting or sculpture or what-have-you.
I usually have a to-do list - it helps me to focus and keeps the chaos in control. Without it I start to feel like I’ve forgotten something important.
I work mainly in acrylics, tinted gesso, and archival ink. Gold leaf has been making regular appearances lately as well. I enjoy using tinted gesso for the translucency and tooth. Acrylic paints for the vibrancy and the flat areas of colour. And the relatively fast drying time of both because I tend to get tactile with my canvas - running my hands over the surface, moving it around, brushing and rubbing. The ink is specifically pigma micron pens in 005, black. I use them for the fine, repetitive linework, such as defining muscle strands.
Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?

Casting in resin, and eventually cold casting in marble and bronze. I’ve been reading up on it, devouring youtube vids, and it all sounds really exciting to me.
Tell us more about your workspace. What was the most funny or weird thing that happened to you in your studio? What is / was the most strange thing hiding in your studio?

The main living area of my apartment is my studio, so I can paint until I drop. My family likes to make fun of me for that, because even as a baby I would refuse to acknowledge that sleep was a barrier to what I wanted to be doing. I’d fall asleep mid-activity all the time. I mean I would be sitting up with toys in hands, snoring little baby snores, and mum would put one finger on my forehead and gently push me over. I wouldn’t even wake up. As an adult, I have fallen asleep mid-paint stroke. I gave myself a mild concussion once falling off my chair and hitting my head on the base of my easel.
My studio is loosely controlled chaos. Weird things happen! From a kookaburra smacking into the window as it tried to make a lunch out of my studio buddy (a blue tongue called Trouble), to a drunken visitor removing their clothes hoping that I’d paint them, because it had always been their fantasy to be an artists model.
The strangest thing in my studio … it sounds really mundane, but I’m going to say the umbrella collection behind the door. Truthfully, I don’t like to use umbrellas - I’d rather feel the rain. I’m not sure why I have them or where they came from, they just kind of happened.
What toughest challenges have you faced as an artist during your art career? What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far?

Money, I think, has been the biggest challenge. Not so much the having enough to buy art supplies, and experiment, and still pay the rent, although that’s certainly a factor. But rather, because I’m the eldest and I don’t come from a wealthy background, there’s this internal pressure to make sure that everyone is taken care of, and artist isn’t the most fiscally responsible career choice I could have made. I didn’t even start my career as an artist until everyone was old enough to look out for themselves, but that sense of responsibility never really goes away.
The biggest lesson is to not take it personally, the failure OR the success.
What’s the best and worst advice you ever received in your art career?

The worst, was to give up, or just do it as a hobby.
The best, would be to be authentic to your own voice. It’s vitally important that your work be yours, and not a funhouse mirror reflection of someone else's.
What do you dislike about the art world? What is the hardest thing on being an artist? Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?

The thing I like least about the art world is when artists become stunted and repetitive in their work, either because they’re trying to replicate a previous success or because a gallery encourages them to maintain a particular style. It stifles the creativity and passion, all the joy and emotion drains out. It’d be like having the same conversation with someone for twenty years.
The hardest thing is finding enough time for everything that I want to do.
I enjoy the solitude, but sure, it can be lonely sometimes. I go out to art openings and events when I can, and the community of artists and creative folk in Sydney and Australia in general is filled with amazing people - amazingly talented, friendly, interesting … just exceptional people overall. Outside of my artist life I have a small group of close friends and family who support me, and I spend a lot of my free time with them.
Where do you see yourself in the future? Professionally, what’s your goal?

I see myself going on adventures, experiencing more of the world, undertaking more collaborative projects, developing relationships with a few outstanding galleries across the globe, and as a life-long bookworm it would be amazing to see my work gracing the cover of a non-art related book.
I’ve already achieved a lot of the goals I set for myself when I started out, but the core goal is always the same - to be able to support myself long term with my creative endeavours, to continue to learn and grow as an artist, and to create work that has some kind of impact.
Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others? Maybe advice for beginning artists out there?

Don’t base your career or life choices on the well meaning advice of others, on statistical probability or popularity, and most especially on your fears. Follow your interests and your values. Explore. Experiment. Make mistakes, or rather, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes teach you important things, about what you’re doing, about yourself. So don’t doubt yourself, don’t wait for that perfect moment. Whatever you choose to do, do it with passion, dedication, and the entirety of your will.
Your favorite art or life quote is ...

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. - Frank Herbert, Dune
I apply that quote to all aspects of my life, from not being afraid to stand up for someone in trouble, to not being afraid to be myself and bust a move in the supermarket aisles, and everything in between.
What are you doing when you’re not creating? What (other) hobbies do you have?

Those times when I’m not creating are divided between loved ones and chilling out by myself. When I’m by myself, I’m reading, gaming, watching sci-fi, swimming in the ocean, riding my bike down steep hills, tending to my tiny garden and seeing what I can grow, practising my archery, or making friends with random animals. I love trying new things, and pushing myself out of the comfort zone. If there’s laughter and adventure to be had, I’m there!
Do you have an online portfolio, blog or social medias where we can view your work?

You can check out my work at, as well as (in order of how much I use them) Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter.
Is there anything else you’d like to say? Is there any project you are working on right now or any ongoing event or exhibition you would like to share with our readers?

I’m currently working on my solo show, which opens in the first week of June at  Just Another Space in Prahran, Melbourne. It’s inspired by water, so expect pirates, axolotls, ghost whales, mermaids, myths and legends and creatures and references to classical paintings.  I’m also creating some smaller pieces on shell, which is a new medium for me.
Thank you dear Rebecca, it was a honor to interview you, I wish you only the best for you and your art and already looking forward to see your new art works :)
By contributor Linda. Mar 2015. Find Oh, So Surreal on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google + or RSS.