May 1, 2013

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Blackballing Gun Violence

Few subjects stir up more passionate debate, especially in the gun-loving South, than guns and gun control. That’s why you can expect very little fence sitting about “Michael Murphy: Damage,” the new exhibit opening at AVA Gallery on May 3.

Multi-media artist Murphy, currently living and working in Milledgeville, Georgia, has installed a piece described by AVA in this way: “Composed of hundreds of suspended black spheres, it creates a dark wave that consumes nearly the entire front gallery...As viewers move through the space, the lyrical arrangement of parts appears to shift and move. As viewers migrate to the front of the gallery, the wave appears to transform into a graphic illusion of an AR-15 assault rifle, similar to the one used by James Holmes in the 2012 Aurora shooting.”

“ I’d like for people to talk about guns and the culture of gun violence. I’m not trying to push my own agenda,” said Murphy, speaking from his studio. “My father carried a gun everywhere he went. But to me, this only created an illusion of safety. I’m interested in the culture of fear we are conditioned to live under.” He notes that the recent failure of the background check bill in Congress highlights the timeliness of the exhibit.

“ Black balls” are historically used in secret ballots to signify opposition, as in “someone black balled me.” The number of black balls in “Damage” represents the number of Americans murdered by assault rifles in the United States in 2012. Yet, said Murphy in his notes on the piece, “While assault rifles are a part of the problem with violence in the US, last year they accounted for only one of every 23 gun murders. Assault weapons are not the problem.”

Many of Murphy’s pieces, such as “The People’s Memorial to Martin Luther King,” (2010) and his most famous piece, “Sculptural Portrait of Barack Obama” (2012), reflect politics. Asked about this, he said, “I see my work partly as a critical foil to popular culture, which I feel needs to be scrutinized more closely. Art is a vehicle for communication…to some degree, my work does reflect some of my own opinions.”

The large, eight-foot tall portrait of the president, which was featured in the iPad edition of Time magazine when Barack Obama was named “Person of the Year,” came about, he says, because as early as 2007 he began working on a portrait of then-Sen. Obama. He was featured in an article in Time as one of the first artists capturing the persona of someone who then went on to become president.

When “Damage” closes at AVA on June 29, it will go on to Murphy’s gallery in Soho, New York City, he said. “It will actually have more of a life online,” he said, noting that his website,, gets many hits from people who never have a chance to see the work in person. “People will come to their own conclusions about it,” he said. “But I know it will have an audience.”

“ Michael Murphy: Damage”

Artist’s lecture:

5:30 p.m., May 2, GPS

Opening reception:

5:30-8 p.m. May 3,

AVA Gallery, 30 Frazier Ave.


May 1, 2013

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