Artist Michael Murphy joins hands with The Body Shop to design Dolly, made entirely with recycled plastic from Bengaluru
AMERICAN ARTIST MICHAEL Murphy is a man of many dimensions. He can’t contain his creativity in just one plane of thought, and thrives to move beyond the conventional human perception. A pioneer of the Perceptual Art movement, the artist challenges the viewer’s boundaries by using multi-dimensional techniques in order to create 3D renderings of flat images. Which means, he uses multiple layers placed one behind the other and when you move a particular way, into one position, they all come together to give you a whole picture. The 44-year-old first garnered attention during the 2008 US Presidential election when he created a portrait of candidate Barack Obama using a variety of mediums ranging from nails to high-tension wire, pastels and even cardboard. After working on several installations like the Gold Jumpman for Nike, Lee, Twitter, Google, The Jordan Brand, Lexus, Subari, ESPN, Disney and the Atlanta Hawks, the Brooklyn-based artist’s latest work is Dolly. A portrait of a waste picker from India, this installation commissioned by The Body Shop is rendered out of plastic waste from Bengaluru, and displayed at the Borough Market in London.
We chat with Michael over an e-mail from Brooklyn, about the creative process behind Dolly, and his collaboration to create Plastics for Change movement which uses Community Trade recycled plastic collected by waste pickers in Bengaluru. “My creative process began by looking at portraits of plastic pickers in India, and thinking about how we would bring one of these intimate portraits to life,” explains Murphy. “Once we select a portrait, we then began to slowly experiment with recycled plastic to see how we could create a structure for a perceptual artwork.” For this particular project, Murphy worked with plastic that he believes in itself was a challenge, albeit an enjoyable one. The artwork was made using Fairly Traded recycled plastic as part of The Body Shop’s Community Trade Programme, meaning that it had been purchased at a fair price from waste pickers in Bengaluru.
With over 1.5 million waste pickers in India, it was no easy task for Murphy to choose just one to represent them, but the image of 20-year old Dolly Raheema really stood out to him. “I wanted to capture her smile, and that sense of positivity she has, and share that with the world to show how important it is for us to pay attention to the human story and the humanity behind the plastics crisis. People like Dolly are some of the rare individuals who work hard to keep plastics out of the ocean and clean up our planet, and they should be applauded.” The Body Shop is also partnering with global recycling pioneers TerraCycle, which enables customers to return their empty bottles, jars, tubs, tubes and pots, in store, so TerraCycle can recycle, wherever possible, in the local market environment. Ultimately, the company plans to close the loop.
The entire process was completed in four months. “Fueled by plenty of coffee, of course!” says Murphy, whose notable works include Damage in 2013, which consisted of 1,200 ping pong balls painted black and suspended from the ceiling which when viewed from the correct angle, coalesced into an expanded graphic of an assault rifle. Cut from the same cloth was his work Gun Country in 2014, an expanded graphic of the United States rendered using 130 suspended toy guns and Come Together in 2018, that depicts Murphy’s girlfriend’s fist during the women’s march in DC in 2018, which comprises over 2,000 pieces of wood.
Murphy has been building things his entire life, which includes making toys as a child. After putting himself through college, Murphy formally trained in classical and sculpture and digital media at The Art Institute of Chicago while focusing on sound art, installation and metal casting. “At this point in my career I’m using tech gadgets, 3D programs, CNC machines, and hand and power tools to engineer and create complex structures that reflect classical ideas of form and beauty. My goal is to make visually and intellectually stimulating objects that reflect the world in which we live and inspire people to think about and discuss important social issues.”