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A world of his own - 5



As with Henry Darger's work, a strong sexual component comes through in much of Murphy's creation, though opposite in tone (and not noted in the press clippings). The dark side of Darger's erotic fantasy is all too clear in his images of violence and enslavement. Though Murphy, like Darger, never married, his eroticism seems of a piece with the joy he espoused in newspaper interviews and in his notations on the work itself. ("What a hobby!" was Murphy's comment on a picture that has him showing off some of his collection.)

More explicitly, he built his own shrine to sexuality in a small attic room, covering the walls with the tickets and passes that were his stock in trade, and then pasting over them a corps of calendar girls (Esquire, 1951) and sexual cartoons. In one triangular piece from the room, Murphy surrounded a photo of himself and his beloved skater Sonja Henie with a bevy of calendar babes.

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In another, a young men's basketball team is pasted over the event tickets along with the girls.

These sexual collages are perhaps the most unique of Murphy's works, with colorful, inherently striking imagery. Otherwise, one piece at a time, most of his collages and enhanced photos don't have the dramatic impact of Darger's panels, just as Murphy's voluminous scrapbooks presumably didn't display the same flights of imagination that Darger put into his writings.

Yet Murphy's creation, like Darger's, was breathtaking in scope.

"It was unbelievable to go and just look. Every space there was a picture. And if there was like a refrigerator, in back of the refrigerator would have been pictures. Any place he could," says David Nagel who visited the house often as a child. Nagel's grandmother was a close friend of Murphy, turning up in many of his pictures.

Where Darger's legacy was more or less preserved, Murphy's -- his genius mostly environmental -- was destroyed before it could be properly documented. Evidence of its scale and brilliance survives in hundreds of fragments, though, as well as in a stream of newspaper articles and photos and in the memories of those who saw the actual environment. That evidence points to a unique artistic vision.

"There was not an open space of wall that didn't have a picture.... Every room you went into was pictures. There was very little furniture. But there was thousands of pictures," Nagel says. "I don't think he took things down once he put them up. It was one of those things where once they went up, they stayed up."

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