79 Annie Murphy-Robinson

Annie Murphy-Robinson in an incredible, award-winning draftsman and teacher from Carmichael, California. She earned her BFA from the U of Southwest Louisiana and her MA in California State U in Sacramento. She has won best in show from the Santa Cruz Art League, and at the California State Fair (both in 2010). She also exhibits widely throughout the great state of California. She mostly draws her two daughters, Emily and Casey. About her work she says, "I choose to draw people and things I know intimately. There is a certain honesty that occurs when the subject/ object has been experienced and loved."

According to this review by Bob Sylva (2006), one of her teacher/mentors was Troy Dalton, who taught her to draw with charcoal and sandpaper. He also writes of her childhood, starting in Sacramento, and then moving to Montana, at age seven. She says, "We had 80 acres. I would go off with my sketch book. I used to make my own inks and stains from plants, grasses, mud. I liked the aloneness of it. When you are drawing, you can close up your book and not show anyone. So, it was my own sanctuary." When her family moved again, this sanctuary was lost, starting a dark period in her life. Annie says that a lot of her work revolves around this, that it's all autobiographical. "What I was then is revealed in my work. I believe all the things that I feared, all the intangible things, the sadness and the loneliness, are there."

She also discusses her work as a high school art teacher. ""Most of the time it's not about art. It's about connecting with them. In being there for them. In giving them a hug if they need it. In calling them on their (nonsense)."

Annie Murphy-Robinson has been so kind as to grace this blog with an interview! So, please keep reading to learn more about her life and art.

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1. Your drawings use such dramatic light and shadow. At times it almost feels like a scene still from a scary movie. I read from Bob Sylva that the shadows serve as a metaphor for the dark side of life, for fear. Is that right, and could you elaborate?

'I do like dramatic lighting, it lends itself to a possible hidden meaning and is steeped in art history via one of my favorites, Caravaggio. My work is about bittersweet, about opposites, fear and courage.'

2. I also understand that some of that fear is based on wanting to protect and preserve your children – it reminds me of the artist Natasha Milashevic (97 on the list), who also dedicated her life to painting her daughter and her friends. I’m curious how your daughters have responded to your work, and if they’re artistic as well? 

'They are artistic, but not as involved as I was at their age ( now 21 and 24).  They seem to be rather oblivious, but competitive as to who's face sold, won a prize, etc. They are fully aware that I am using my own childhood experiences and they are my stand-ins.'

3. You drew a bison standing over your daughter Casey. What’s the story behind this? It’s a metaphor? 

'Ha, well it was a photo shoot for a commission and I liked how she seemed alive but dead, an "Ophelia" moment as it were.  It was also when Hillary was running in 2015 and I felt the weight of America (via the Bison) and Casy was Hillary.'

4. There’s another drawing of a daughter smoking a cigarette. I’m curious if you could talk about it, and how/if it relates to your own childhood. 

'Yes- this is the age that I started smoking, around 13, and she is wearing my first loves t-shirt (who died in a barfight 12 years ago)- this piece sold, got auctioned off (I bought it) and I redrew it and sold it again.'

5. I read that you enjoy punk rock music, and I’m curious if this has had any effect on your art, and if you ever consider what you draw in a political way? 

'I am influenced by my experience, including what I have loved in the past- I still listen to The Damned and other bands (punk) as well as many new genres of music.'

6. Bob Sylva mentioned that your masters program was a struggle. Mine was too, and I’m curious if you could talk a little about that. Your work is so powerful, it’s hard to imagine anyone trying to convince you otherwise, or that you’re not an ‘artist’. 

'I was a painter, then was in the middle of a big argument that occurred in my studio during my studio critique. After the argument, the professor started tearing my work apart as did all of my peers. I went home defeated, I didn't know what direction to turn- I was painting skin diseases and pictures of cancer trying to make them pretty, via Soutine's side of beef (?) painting.'

7. I’d like to know more about your career as an art teacher. What do you try to teach most, what’s hardest for you, what have been your successes?

'I teach at a continuation high school, it is exhausting, especially online.  Since I work at a continuation HS I can teach outside of my credential.  When we are at school, I get to teach yoga and meditation and Ukulele.  It is hardest to see kids give up and a system that lowers rigor and ups reward. I would have benefitted from a survival school in the woods - wish we could do that. It is also about non-existent parents too.'

8. Do you feel your school/system appreciates and promotes the arts? What needs changing? 

'God don't get me started! I do believe they appreciate and promote the arts, although at my school I have barely a budget and have to seek monetary support for supplies in the community, which takes a lot of time.  I recycle after school and use that money to get supplies as well - our students can't afford art supplies as we are a title 1 school.'

9. What advice do you give to young art students? 

'To look at art from the past, find what they like and study, study, study! To draw or do art everyday like eating or sleeping and to be resilient and brave.'

10.  What do you tell someone who thinks art doesn’t matter? 

'Everyone is entitled to their own opinion - although I would try to change their mind 🤓'

11. I can't believe I forgot to ask about your process! So, I know some draftsmen like David Kassan draw with powdered charcoal, but I've never understood quite how or why sanding it down changes/improves the work. Could you please explain this process, and what sandpaper and brushes/tools you use to create such incredible textures in your work?

'Sanding the charcoal into the paper increases the value scale ten fold. It toughens the work by embedding the charcoal- hardly anything sits on the surface.'