Tyler Murphy's art is a study of familiar things. A teepee. Corralling horses during a roundup.
It's how Murphy treats them -- the texture of the paint, the light that hits differently enough to make you rethink the picture.
“The trick is learning how to see,” Murphy said.
Splotches of paint blend together—blue turns to a vibrant purple, and the edges are stained with bright oranges and yellows. The spectrum of colors traces a history and highlights the shades and brushstrokes.
When the palette isn’t being used, it sits up in Murphy’s studio, a small loft above his downtown business, Montana Gallery, located at 2710 Montana Ave. Connected to Ebon Coffee Collective, Murphy’s space features a number of events including paint and sips, live music and workshops. The point of the gallery is to sell art, but Murphy also hopes to create a place that fosters communities—a collective of friends, artists and people.
“I don’t describe myself as an artist, I use the word host. I love putting together new projects, events, exhibitions,” he said.
Montana Gallery is Murphy’s second gallery. At 23, he opened his first in Red Lodge and owned it for three years before relocating to Billings.
“More than anything I came from a family of entrepreneurs,” he said.
Business ingenuity may run in the family, but Murphy also comes from deep creative roots. His grandpa wrote poetry, his mother worked as a jeweler and both grandmas produced art.
Growing up in Joliet, Murphy gained a reputation as the class artist. Art shaped Murphy’s formative years. His grandma enrolled him in programs with Kevin Red Star, Elliot Eaton and Joyce Lee. These mentors rooted his interest in artistic events and community building.
In mid-August, one of Murphy’s projects took him to Yellowstone River Lodge, just outside of Columbus. His work was featured in an installation along the Yellowstone River. A few days before the event, he traveled to the lodge and worked on an impromptu painting of a teepee. He made the brushstrokes and details look effortless. The piece, mostly completed in little more than an hour, illustrated that even at 26, Murphy’s talents place him well within the ranks of the most seasoned artists.
Murphy works with oil and canvas. He prefers the texture over acrylic or watercolor.
“Oil holds its body—its textual form. I enjoy working with thick paint and what it can start to imply,” he clarified.
Murphy’s oeuvre captures pastoral Montana landscapes, sometimes centered on farm life, other times on people or quotidian objects. His work doesn’t necessarily highlight an emotion or an abstract idea. He simply brings attention to subjects he finds interesting.
“It’s reflecting reality,” he said, “But I think that life, although challenging, for the most part it’s a beautiful gift to be here on this earth and it’s worthwhile to reflect the good stuff in life in art. I try to be honest in what excites me and just pursue those passions. It can take me down lots of different rabbit holes.”
Murphy’s philosophy extends to life beyond his identity as an artist and business owner. The explorations take him in several directions and adventures from traveling around the country serving coffee to opening his space downtown.
“My hope is that the gallery will be a place where the creativity of the individual is celebrated, and that that will awaken in our visitors their own creativity, because we don't need more mass production, we need humanity.”