• In 1993, I made a huge career move and left the arts community in San Francisco to move back to...

    Charlottesville, 1997

    In 1993, I made a huge career move and left the arts community in San Francisco to move back to the South and work in my dream job as an assistant to famed Atlanta artist Todd Murphy. Upon arrival, I walked into a 10,000 square foot studio (the old Mattress Factory at 290 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.), a softly lit space of incredible mystery and wonder (see figure 1). At 23, I had entered Todd Murphy’s world. This world would not only influence my career for the next 25 years, it would also teach me the ultimate gift —I would learn how to see.

     

     

  • Artist's studio, Atlanta, 1994 (Figure 1)
  • Todd Murphy was a giant — an immensely talented artist who worked across multiple mediums to create haunting immersive environments that would transform, challenge and illuminate the viewer experience. Whether he was creating a 20-foot painting, filling a 16-foot wall with minimal line drawings, building a city of salt sculptures that would stand tall in groups or alone, or creating an installation overnight that would transport the viewer into places beyond, Todd didn’t do anything moderately. But the largest impact of this giant talent was his overwhelming contribution of inspiring artists and art lovers, as well as nurturing old and creating new collectors in Atlanta and beyond. In the 6 short years that I worked in Todd’s studio, his art and influence brought together collectors, directors, actors, curators, and musicians — and even introduced me to both Jane Jackson and the partner that I now have in the gallery.

     

    In the early 1990’s, the Bill Lowe Gallery launched Todd’s career in Atlanta with his first solo exhibition. Bill placed many of Todd’s masterpieces in private and public collections both locally and nationally. The 90’s were quite unique in Atlanta, and Todd was a large part of the growing art scene in our city at that time.  In the years since, I have watched Todd’s work evolve from early mixed media works to sculptures, works on paper, dioramas and tiny miniature worlds that would fill the floor of this 10,000 square foot space; to building boats and three-dimensional works with film…the breadth of his work is momentous. When I purchased Jackson Fine Art with Todd’s best friend in 2003, Todd blessed the relationship and encouraged me to fly in my own business. I was grateful to him for empowering me to run my own show. 

  • Artist's studio, Brooklyn, 2016
  • When Todd moved into his studio in the Navy yard in Brooklyn, I was able to watch from afar as he found his home. It was from the city that he took inspiration, and it was in his studio that he gave a visual voice to the complex histories of our time. One would need years to truly understand the scope of his work, to pore through all of the layers of his practice, each specific and intentional.  When I learned of his illness two years ago, I could not imagine how this giant would not still remain on our earth to continue to inspire the world around him. Todd passed in February of 2020 after a short "journey" (quoting Toddd) with cancer, just before Covid changed the world. I often wonder what he would have thought about what has happened and how we have changed, yet he did gracefully exit as he had his eyes set for another vision elsewhere. The beauty is in what remains — his family and his legacy. 

     

  • I recently saw a video on Todd’s Instagram (Untitled, 2017) of what I thought was a staged subject, filmed in the studio and dressed up, holding lights. As I continued to watch I saw the grainy motion of old film and was struck by how completely beautiful and completely characteristic of Todd the footage was. On second glance, it dawned on me that I was looking at an iPhone clip that Todd took out the window of a plane — the figure that I had mistaken for a model or a sculpture was in truth a ground attendant with light batons, marshalling the plane to move away from the gate and “take off.” I smiled sweetly to myself, knowing that I saw in the way that Todd had taught me to see the world. As Todd has “taken off,” I hope that I can continue to share his gift of seeing with others.  

    - Anna Walker Skillman

  • Artist's studio, Brooklyn, 2017
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