From a judge’s gavel to paint brushes, Barrie’s David Murphy has lived a unique life.
After a life spent mostly in a courtroom — first as a lawyer with a big Toronto law firm and eventually as a high court judge in the Cayman Islands — the 73-year-old is enjoying a simpler life these days spent mostly in his basement art studio.
Born and raised in the city, Murphy says he has been painting for nearly 50 years, but it wasn’t until he started sneaking off to art classes once a week — while he was working in a large litigation firm in downtown Toronto in the 1980s — that he really began to love it.
“It sounds odd. It’s a time in your life where you’re probably the busiest, craziest and most frenetic in your career,” he tells BarrieToday. “I decided I wanted a diversion in law school and started copying Group of Seven paintings in oil just for fun.”
In 1989, Murphy moved to Hong Kong, where he spent the next seven years working as a law professor at the University of Hong Kong. And although he didn’t do a lot of painting during that time, he says he would find some time between classes to take the occasional class.
During that time, he experimented with watercolour and took classes in Chinese brush painting and art restoration. He also developed a research specialty in art law, published numerous scholarly articles on the subject, and lectured worldwide. He is also the author of a book on the legal aspects of the trade in Chinese art, published by Oxford University Press.
Murphy then moved to the Cayman Islands and spent the next four years as a high court judge, a career he admits left very little time for art.
In 2000, at the age of 51, Murphy retired and moved to Europe, where he once again picked up his paint brushes and started painting regularly.
“I started doing a lot of shows and exhibitions in Malta,” he says, adding he always knew he’d return to Canada.
Murphy, who returned to Barrie in 2013, says he has always been drawn to impressionists, and credits the famous Group of Seven for inspiring his own work.
“When people think of impressionism, they typically think of European impressionist painters without really appreciating we had our own school of impressionist painters here in Canada with the Group of Seven who were fabulous,” he says. “I think it was meeting A.Y. Jackson that really inspired me (and) it was probably around that time I started really enjoying going to art galleries.
"Back in those days, McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg was just jammed with Group of Seven paintings. … It was just a visual feast back then and that obviously influenced me," Murphy adds.
Although most of his work over the years has featured landscapes and cityscapes almost entirely in oil, he says he has stepped outside of the box over the last few years and begun to move into abstracts using acrylic for a “change of pace.”
“Representational landscapes and cityscapes… that’s what I have done for decades, but not in a realistic style. I don’t like realistic art. I'd rather just take a photograph, so it’s impressionist,” he says.
An avid traveller, the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on that for Murphy. He says he found himself in his basement studio filling time in the winters.
“I decided to try something different. I started churning out a lot of abstracts… largely experimental and I think some of them are pretty good,” he says. “It's really just a matter of putting together colour and shapes in a pleasing combination.
"I like to be spontaneous. I am not one of these artists that agonizes over something for weeks. I just like to do it and move on.”