Artist Spotlight #5 Jon Murphy: Artist

artist spotlight Apr 07, 2016

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“I’d like to share with you is the brief interaction I had with a guy who went by the name of Zeus...


I’m 35 and have been making abstract art for 15 years in hopes of being able to make a small career doing work that is positive and endearing.


Along the way I’ve had some obstacles I needed to overcome.


When I was 24 years old, I got two DUI’s in a 10 month span. I was sentenced to 8 months in prison for that. Thankfully, I didn’t hurt anyone but I sure did have some learning to do. I was put in a metal and concrete prison where at any given moment trouble was brewing.


In that dark place it was my art that kept me respected by the other inmates and out of harms way.


But I’ll get back to that in a second.


One day a new inmate arrived. He was huge guy at well over six feet tall and way over 200 pounds. His name was Zeus. He didn't leave his cell for the first three days. When he finally decided to walk out of his cell he wandered up and down the hallway threatening everyone. He was pacing, shooting dirty glances at every single one of us. I think he was trying to get into a least that’s the impression I got.


I was just trying finish my time and mind my own business. So, as usual, I was off on my own, drawing my way into a reality that was far away from prison. I definitely did not want to get into a fight with Zeus.


One day, the moment I dreaded came…


This giant of a human being wandered over by my table as I was working on a drawing. He paced a couple of times past me breaking the boundary of comfortability by inching too close. He asked me, "What are you working on?" A little surprised that he was curious, I showed him my art. He asked if he could sit down across from me. He told me his name was "Zeus". Red flags started waving in my brain at the name “Zeus”. Zeus told me that he does portrait art all with a No. 2 pencil. He also told me that he did hard time in prison before. He was a veteran of the penal system.

Then he told me something very simple that I will never forget: "I do portraits, but what I do is not art. The picture you are making, that is art."


I said a sincere “thank you” but wait a sec---What?! Did I just have an intellectual conversation with someone who walks around in his underwear and spits on the floor?


Zeus gave me a valuable experience. One where appearance is often illusory and art is truly transcendent. Our common appreciation for art lifted us out of that prison to higher truths.


As it turned out, Zeus would only be there for a couple of weeks, but we became friends for that small amount of time. We traded pictures. He drew my portrait and I gave him one of my drawings. I have no idea where he is now.


I'm not at all proud of the circumstances that led me to that place but I've not let it go to waste. I used that time as a grace period to develop and grow as a person and as an artist. Probably the most important thing I learned during my prison stay was that the universal language of art is incredibly powerful.”


Jon’s website:


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Paint on!



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