Interview by Benjamin Murphy
Published in May 2022
Originally from Bradford, Yorkshire, Murgatroyd studied Fine art at Chelsea College of Arts in London. His work is informed by his obsession with history; understanding the past allows him to make sense of the tangled web of influences, events, and emotions that make up the existential human experience.
He implores an underlying fun and witty evolution in his paintings which comes from an immediacy of colour and figuration, and carefully-constructed allegorical still life and surrealism.
Objects and symbols that build our own histories and how we transfer our emotional memories onto objects, feature often in his work allowing them in some way to become otherworldly.
Murgatroyd captures the banality of everyday life in a way that is gracefully charming, but at the same time an uninterrupted lyrical contemporary view on the world. His creations compel us to view his life and ours with its raw untethered beauty - constructed in his own reality, - but recognisable by all. He links together many references from social studies of humans being placed in the reality of imagined environments.
His paintings act as a stage which brings together the myriad of characters and objects he has come into contact with; both imaged and lived. His work is comprised of a wide range of topics, from his personal still life pieces to landscape paintings, which commonly feature captured images of the past. Structured compositions using this ethos are the framework of the works he creates.
Conor Murgatroyd is an artist who I first met at the latest UK solo show of our mutual friend Igor Mortitz, that we hosted at Delphian Gallery in 2021, although we’d been chatting online much longer. Both of us now living and working in London, it was nice to connect with another artist from Bradford whom it turns out was born in the very same hospital as me just a few years later. His work immediately struck a chord with me and although it is very different in style from my own, I think we share a lot of similarities in terms of approach, and where the work comes from. My latest curatorial project is a two person show with Conor and Peter Doyle, which is perhaps the most natural pairing I could have ever dreamt of, and opens at the exciting new gallery The Room London on the 10th of June.
Watering a Yucca
Firstly, why are you an artist?
It’s just an accumulation of events in my life that led to the painting happening. I always enjoyed drawing and painting from a young age and then when it came to the time for me to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life I decided to be an artist and make my living through my work. I believe that for certain people their only way of seeing the world is through a creative but also outsider perspective. For me, it would have been painful for me not to be an artist. I think if you try to stifle and kill the thing inside you that helps you understand life, it will make you utterly miserable.
Thats when I realised that being an artist for me wasn’t convenient it was absolutely necessary.
Tell me about the things you do that aren’t a part of your work.
I like my clothes. I like drinking. I like spending time with people I love. I like accumulating objects. I like driving. I like living.
Do you work to a strict schedule or routine?
Yes I like to work for 4+ hours at once. I like to start as early as possible in the morning and then when my brain stops working properly I stop. I am trying to get into the habit of painting every day now but my life has been busy over the past 6 months.
Since having a new baby how has your attitude towards the world, creativity and art changed?
It has definitely made me more aware of my own mortality and how short a time I am going to be on the earth. It sounds cliché but it has changed my perspective on a lot of things, mainly art. I think the ideas and work I produce now will be a lot more considered. I think life is too short for me to take advantage of time, and I have to think much harder about why I like certain things and why they are important to me.
How do you source your subject matter, and what things inspire the work?
There are many different avenues through which I source my subject matter. I paint from events in my life, places I’ve been, and people I’ve met. Sometimes the reality of my life mixes with my thoughts and the dreamlike world I find myself in - and where all the information in my head exists. So my subject matter comes from loads of different places. I paint things I find attractive also. Things have to look good. Good aesthetics, good architecture, good art.
What, if anything, are you hoping your works will say to the viewer?
I want to create artworks that explain and communicate life. How difficult it is, how easy it is, how good it is when you like someone or something. I want to depict my reality through my paintings and by doing that I would like to make it easy for people to relate their emotions and desires to mine.
Who are the subjects in your paintings, and how does their character affect the aesthetic of the work?
The aesthetic of my work is completely in my hands and doesn’t change depending on who I paint. Different characters are always painted with the same approach. I am always trying to evolve my practice and my technical skills. Generally the portraits of people are mainly focused on their surroundings and the emphasis of the portait of someone isn’t entirely on the subject.
Self Portrait, 2021
If you weren’t an artist what would you be?
I would probably still be working on a building site.
Tell me about Peter’s work - what does it say to you?
Peters work says a lot. Charming, colourful, enticing, thoughtful. I find his work to be a massive breath of fresh air that I can relate my own life too. I think mine and Peter’s work is technically very different but very similar at the same time. Important things I think about my own practice, Peter also thinks. We are very, very similar people, we have a similar taste, we find the same stuff funny, his soul is close to mine. I cherish his work in my mind and also appreciate greatly the complexities that come with his work and how he ended up being an artist.
Conor Murgatroyd, 2021
How has being from Yorkshire influenced your art practice, and has that changed since you moved to london?
I have little interest in it. Saying that, I am very much a product of Yorkshire. I speak with a Yorkshire accent, I see the world through the gaze of someone who has experienced life there. This is something I have come to be thankful for. I have my goals in life and want to do certain things, and I think if I didn’t have the background I have, those goals would be pretty much impossible.
The Uncanny Valley by Conor Murgatroyd & Peter Doyle at The Room London in Islington.
Curated by Benjamin Murphy
June 10th - July 1st
30 Thornhill Road, Angel, London N1 1HW
Weds - Fri 12am-6pm | Sat - Sun 12am - 5pm
If you like this why not read our interview with Max Petts + Robert Orr
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