Since childhood, Deirdre Murphy has been fascinated by nature, citing it as consistent inspiration in her art. Beginning her process with observational paintings made en plein air, Murphy translates the intersection of nature, science, and manmade decorative arts in her works.
As a Winterthur Maker-Creator Fellow, Murphy was drawn to the John James Audubon prints in the Winterthur collection, which are considered some of the finest natural history prints ever made, most notably his illustrations of birds. American decorative arts and patterns also served as muse for Murphy’s Nest Neuron and Brooding Season series currently displayed at Winterthur. From looking at Winterthur’s collection, Murphy draws the parallel between the layering of leaves to create a world of new color to the layers of patterns in wallpaper and thread in embroidery to create new colors.
During the pandemic, Murphy became fascinated by the architecture of birds’ nests, studying their structures and prompting her to explore the dichotomy of safety and vulnerability in one’s dwelling through the depiction of birds’ nests. Murphy says, “Birds only nest when they’re going to have their young, when they’re breeding. Otherwise, the nest is a place of vulnerability for birds because they’re stationary and they are then prey for the predators. Similar to the feeling during Covid of being incredibly vulnerable, but also the home being this sanctuary.”
In conjunction with a passion for nature, Murphy also uses science as an inspiration for her work. Her father was a hematologist, and he showed her images of different blood cells, pointing out recurring patterns. The phenomenon of naturally recurring patterns became a driving inspiration, especially when co-teaching a class on the neuroanatomy of the brain at Lehigh University. The clumps of neurons in the brain heavily mirrored the tangles of birds’ nests, prompting Murphy to create the Nest Neuron series, drawing out the interconnectedness of man and nature.
The effects of climate change on surrounding nature also greatly inspires Murphy in her artistic production, she is especially interested in the changes in bird migration. Murphy firmly believes that one cannot discuss and draw inspiration from nature without also considering the effects of climate change, which can be felt throughout her entire oeuvre.
Deirdre Murphy’s works are now on display in Winterthur’s Galleries.