Phind out Phriday: Brenna K. Murphy- The Artist Who Likes To Mix It Up

This week I am excited to introduce you to Brenna K. Murphy, a mixed media artist, from, well all over. She lived in six different states before the age of 18, definitely calls Philly her home for the time being...sort of. Brenna is actually on sabbatical for the next year, spending the year abroad. So, we definitely connected to bring you this sweet interview while I was in the sleepy suburb of Media and Brenna was in France. 
Brenna is a pretty well rounded artist, using various mediums to fulfill her passion including photography and drawing. What I found most intriguing about her work is her use of hair in her work and Brenna's commitment to her work. Go ahead and take a read and phind out about Brenna K. Murphy. 

Phreedum: When did you first know you wanted to start creating art? 

BKM: For me, creating art was never really a 'decision' per se, it has just been a part of my life from the beginning.  I was always drawing as a child - floor plans of houses and abstract drawings emphasizing shape and color mostly.  When I moved to a new city my sophomore year of high school, I made some friends who organized a photography club, and they taught me how to develop my own film and make prints in the darkroom.  This was when I began to take art-making seriously and realized that choosing art as a profession was actually a real possibility for me.  Even though I was only 15 years old, I was quite committed to making photographs.  Because I had an after-school job, I would arrive to the darkroom at 6:30am almost every morning so I could work for a few hours before class, and I was constantly shooting pictures.  I just fell in love with it.
Phreedum: What has been a highlight for you since staring this work? 
BKM: I've been making art with hair for 10 years, so it's quite difficult to narrow down all the amazing experiences I've had into one 'highlight,' but there are two things I've noticed consistently over the years that I just love.  One of my favorite things is to watch as people first approach my work and see their eyes widen when they realize that they're looking at hair.  Most of my work is created using only single strands of hair, so it's not immediately obvious what the material used to make the drawing is - viewers have to slow down a bit and look closely.  I really love witnessing that moment of shock and surprise.  I also enjoy the many different responses that my work elicits.  Hair is such a loaded material - culturally and personally - and viewers bring all of their associations and feelings about hair to my work.  Responses range from admiration and curiosity to utter disgust.  I love that my work can bring about such diverse, strong reactions, and that it communicates very different things to different people.     
Phreedum: When I contacted you about an interview you shared you are actually out of the country on sabbatical for the next year, which I think is amazing and makes me a little jealous. Can you share what has been a highlight for you since you've begun your year away?

BKM: I'm about two months into my year-long artistic sabbatical, most of which was spent in Kathmandu, Nepal.  I've seen and experienced so many incredible things - it's really hard to narrow it down!  I'd say that the most valuable things about my journey so far have been stepping outside of my comfort zone (culturally, personally), and escaping the daily routines and responsibilities of life in Philadelphia that restrict my time and energy.  Being somewhere new and different is just so inspiring - learning about various Nepali thoughts and traditions surrounding hair was fascinating!  And being free of the time-commitment my 'day job' requires is really wonderful.  I'm a preschool teacher in Philly, and even though I absolutely love my job, it is full-time work and requires a lot of energy.  I've gone months without making any work because of this, so having the time, space, and energy to focus completely on art now is a real luxury.
Phreedum: What has been one of the biggest lessons creating and distributing your art has taught you?

BKM: One of the biggest lessons I've learned from being a professional artist is that to do this, you really have to WANT it, and you have to be disciplined.  Unless you are independently wealthy or have found yourself a patron, no one is going to pay you to make art full-time.  And, of course, this means you'll need some other means of supporting yourself financially.  Whether it's a variety of part-time gigs, a full-time job outside the art field, or a full-time job within the arts, you most likely won't get to focus exclusively on your art 100% of the time.  You're forced to juggle your job(s) with your art career, and for me personally, this has been a constant struggle.  
Phreedum: How does your work change the lives of others?
BKM: My work is a discussion about the ideal of Home and its relationship to our bodies and physical space, but through a very personal lens that is specific to my own story.  My only hope is that my work makes people slow down, look closer, and think about what Home means to them in their own lives as well as the collective life of their communities - even if just for a moment.
Phreedum: What are some of the sacrifices you've had to make?
BKM: For me and many people, being an artist requires a lot of financial sacrifice.  I chose this path knowing that I will never be 'rich' and that there will always be things out of my reach.  It's a sacrifice that, although quite difficult at times, is worth making.  I mean, what's the alternative?  Sacrifice your need to make art so you can work a job that makes you a lot of money, but doesn't feed your creative needs?  That may be fine for a few years, but, ultimately would not be worth it - at least for me.  But with that said, I try not to complain about it too much because the fact that I even have the choice to make this sacrifice is a luxury.  In so many places around the world, art is the domain of the wealthy because they don't have to be concerned with basic needs (food, shelter, health, safety) - this reality makes it very clear that I am quite fortunate to have this choice at all.  
Phreedum: How do you define success? 
BKM: For me, success is not about money or how many pieces I manage to sell.  It's about making work that I find satisfying (in terms of process), conceptually engaging, and aesthetically pleasing - it's about making work that feeds my need to create and that I can be proud of.  And if I get the chance to exhibit that work so others can see it, all the better!
Phreedum: Where do you get your inspiration and how do you stay motivated once you’ve found it?

BKM: Inspiration and motivation are fickle things for me, they come and go.  I'll have weeks when I don't want to go anywhere near my work, and then others when I loathe having to leave the studio.  My process is very much one of ebb and flow, and it has taken me years to accept that.  I grew up with this notion of the 'prolific artist' who works day and night in the studio - but for me, that's just not a reality.  I work when I want to (or sometimes, when I have a deadline), and although I had some trouble reconciling that reality with this ideal of the 'prolific artist,' I've realized that it's a good system for me.  Otherwise, I'd be forcing myself to make work, and it would feel too much like a chore or an obligation.  And that would kill the joy and satisfaction art-making brings me.
Phreedum: Hair has a pretty significant presence in your work, why is that?

BKM: I really just love how culturally and personally loaded hair is in and of itself.  And I love that these feelings and associations are often full of contradictions.  For example, why is it that when hair is on the head it is so often considered beautiful and a source of one's identity and sexual appeal, but the second it comes OFF the head (found in your food, in the drain, on the floor), it is disgusting and repulsive?  I love this complexity and the fact that hair speaks to so many things - identity, history, memory, death, sex, culture, and on and on.  I think using a material that is 'alive' or 'loaded' in this way brings a lot to a piece of art - there's another level of meaning to explore beyond what the artist is depicting.  The material that's used, how it’s used, and why it’s used become prominent factors in interpreting the image/object that the artist has created.   

Phreedum: Why the mixed media as opposed to a singular form of artistic expression?

BKM: I find working in 'mixed media' freeing, even though my 'palette' of materials has been relatively limited thus far.  I enjoy the flexibility and knowing that I can use whatever materials I want/need to realize an idea - I'm not boxing myself into one particular medium.  With that said, I don't think there is anything wrong with working exclusively in one medium - some of my favorite artists are painters and photographers - but working with multiple mediums is what comes naturally to me personally.   
Phreedum: What advice would you give to other artists? 
BKM: To young artists who are just beginning their careers, I would say:  Get used to rejection and try not to let it get you down.  There are many talented artists in the world, and very few opportunities for them to showcase their talent and/or be recognized for their work.  Everyone is applying for the same exhibitions, grants, residencies, and prizes - competition is stiff!  You will be told NO a lot, but you will also be told YES!  Just apply, apply, and apply some more.  Cast a wide net, keep your mind open, and be persistent.  Apply for the same thing many times if you have to, and realize that you can't win them all.  But remember that this is okay because these awards are not the only measure of success - your work is the most important thing, and as long as you are satisfied and have pushed yourself creatively to make art that you are proud of, you're doing well.

To learn more about Brenna and see her work please visit website: and check out her blog

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