By Krishna Adams, Director of Visual Arts, Craft, Media, and Design –
Artist Althea Murphy-Price of Knoxville, Tennessee, is a recipient of the FY24 Individual Artist Fellowship in Photography. The Tennessee Arts Commission awards Individual Artist Fellowships annually to recognize and acknowledge outstanding professional Tennessee artists who, through their work, add to the state’s cultural vitality.
Often manipulating manufactured synthetic and human hair and her own designed 3D hair accessories, Althea Murphy-Price emphasizes hair as its role as embellishment and a signifier of racial identity.
“I use sculpture, printmaking, and photography to create images inspired by motifs of my heritage and feminine awareness. Using the language of quotational objects and forms, images become altered as functional items of decoration. Bright colors, shiny surfaces, texture, and dimensional forms extend or layer in accumulation to create forms suggestive of play, analysis, and at times discomfort. The concurrent theme throughout the work is use of commercially produced plastics, used for making synthetic hair and hair accessories. In this series of work, young girls are adored in burdensome 3D printed objects (created by the artist).”
Murphy-Price’s current series of photographs documents over 1,200 hours of 3D-printed plastic objects used as colorful headdresses. Hair accessories, toys, and hats come to mind for most viewers that see the work. “I was inspired by the questions posed by the author Audre Lorde’s, Questionnaire to Oneself, I was asking myself, what does the next generation of girls need to succeed and protect themselves?”
Typically, Murphy-Price’s work engages in a bit of deception by attempting to lead viewers into questioning the truth or fiction of her materials. She asks the audience, “What do we wear that is synthetic, that masks what is human about ourselves?” She taps into extravagance and oddity through these wearable sculptures in this series of photographs. The photograph, Unicorn, represents a mythical and elusive creature. More recently, the concept of a unicorn has also come to symbolize beauty given its rarity. The notion of rarity as a strength, not a weakness, inspires this work.
Born in California, Murphy-Price has been a practicing artist for over 20 years. After completing her Bachelor of Arts in Studio Fine Arts from Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, she completed two consecutive graduate degrees: a Master of Arts in printmaking and painting from Purdue University in West Lafayette and a Master of Fine Arts at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Elkins Park, PA. She also made time to study abroad in Florence and Rome, Italy.
Her studies exposed her to creative practices in painting, drawing, sculpture, and most of all, printed media, which has become most influential to her artwork. Murphy-Price believes that creative exploration drives her desire to find creative paths in search of the best execution to express her ideas. She attributes this to having an expertise in printmaking that encourages creative problem-solving and invention. Having this sensibly has provided ample opportunities to teach printmaking workshops and participate in residencies in such places as Jingdezhen, China, Rome, and Venice. Additionally, she has led multiple workshops at the Anderson Ranch Art Center in Snowmass Village, CO; Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN; and Penland School of Crafts in Bakersville, NC. Murphy-Price served as an assistant professor in printmaking at the Hope School of Fine Arts at Indiana University. She is currently a professor in the School of Art at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where she has taught for over 11 years.
Her works have been exhibited throughout GA, NC, AL, TN, TX, VA, OK, WI, NE, OR, SD, NC, MA, MN, OH, MD, NJ, IL, CA, PA, NV, KY, AZ, and IA. International exhibition sites have been located in Santander, Spain; Tidaholm, Sweden; Tokyo, Japan; Montreal, Canada; and Jingdezhen, Shanxi, and Shanghai, China.
In Tennessee, her body of work has been on view in Knoxville at the TriStar Arts Candoro Marble Gallery, Knoxville Museum of Art, and the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Greater Knoxville. She has also shown her work at the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the Tipton and Slocumb Galleries in Johnson City, Tennessee Arts Commission Gallery in Nashville, the Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville, and most recently at SheetCake Gallery in Memphis. Her writings and art have been featured in publications such as Art Papers Magazine, CAA Reviews, Contemporary Impressions Journal, Art in Print, and Printmaking Today.
Her work can be found in the collections of the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Atlanta University Center in Atlanta, GA; Southern Graphics Council Archives in Statesboro, GA; University of Akron’s Gallery Collections in Akron, OH; Kohler Library at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, WI; Tyler School of Art Archives at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA; Sarah Lawrence University in Yonkers, NY; Kent State University in Kent, OH; St. Norbert College in De Pere, WI; the Bradbury Art Museum at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, AR; the Amity Foundation in Laramie, WY; the Colorado State Museum in Denver, CO; the Huntsville Museum of Art in Huntsville, AL; and the Knoxville Museum of Art in East TN among others. Her work has been featured in the 2009 Spring issue of Art Papers and in the book, Printmaking: A Complete Guide to Materials and Process by Beth Grabowski and Bill Fick.
Diligence pays off. This was not the first time Murphy-Price applied for an Individual Artist Fellowship (IAF) grant. Knowing every year, new adjudicators review the IAF applications, each time she did not receive the IAF grant, she would plan to apply next year. When asked about advice she would give artists on the fence about applying for the IAF, Murphy-Price replied, “Read the instructions and don’t wait until the last minute. Be honest about your work so you know what IAF category your work best fits, not necessarily how you see yourself as an artist.”
Murphy-Price plans to use the Individual Artist Fellowship Grant award to travel to Austin, TX to begin a collaboration with Flatbed Press. The collaboration will offer a tremendous opportunity to produce new work executed by master printmakers. Their technical prowess will allow her to work in ways currently unattainable by her own hands. The collaboration will begin with a week-long visit to the studio to develop the work. Following the visit, Flatbed will work to produce an edition of prints to be divided between her and the press. In possession of her work, Flatbed will exhibit the work in their gallery and at art fairs throughout the country. If possible, she also hopes to exhibit the work produced at Flatbed during the New York Print Fair next year. Finally, any remaining funds from the award will go towards the purchase of a lithographic printing press.
In addition to the recent IAF award, Murphy-Price has received the Jefferson Prize from the University of Tennessee (2022), Tri-Star Arts: Current Art Fund Grant (2021), the Ellen McClung Berry Professor Award from the School of Art, University of Tennessee, the Framing Award at the Dogwood Arts Juried Exhibition (2019), and The Renaissance Graphic Art Award, Semi-Finalist at The Print Center (2017). To find out more about Murphy-Price, check out her website and Instagram.