Paper Trail

Daniel Sean Murphy gets all the details down in paper

Growing up in the wilds of New Jersey, Daniel Sean Murphy longed for the ideal childhood. So he made it…out of paper. Transforming his wishes, by age thirteen, into detail-laden scale models of Norman Rockwell-like homes, Murphy was unconsciously paving the way for what would become a career in paper. No great surprise then that, after an art school degree in illustration, he would return to his childhood roots. “I’ve always felt comfortable working with paper, folding, cutting, gluing. I think I’ve always had a sort of “fearless” attitude towards paper.” says Murphy.
Fearless is right. If he ever been any doubts about his medium of choice, they were banished five years ago, when he finished an installation of hundreds of hand painted paper butterflies for a gallery opening. “I spent months making butterflies. It was incredibly repetitious, and I think at the end I had painted something like 20,000 white dots on the black-tipped wings of my monarch collection. I had serious doubts the entire time making this series, thinking what I am doing?!  I later installed 365 butterflies into a gallery space, as a sort of beautiful infestation. I remember standing back looking at the installation, on the night of the opening and thinking, I’m really proud of this.” 
Since then, Murphy has built a client list of heavy-hitters that includes Martha Stewart, and Harper’s Bazaar to name a few. Of his commercial work, Murphy agrees that the larger-than-life watches he made for the Wall Street Journal Magazinehave been amongst the most challenging. “The paper watches I create are carefully measured, and created based on photo references to achieve an exact paper replica. They typically take between 40-60 hours to finish, and are approximately 3 feet long by 2 feet wide.” Murphy works in this scale in order to capture the exquisite detail of each watch face, making the end result almost indiscernible from the original. And, yes, every bit of them is paper.
Historically, Murphy has added paint to his creations, usingtrompe l’oeil techniques to suggest light, shadow and age, letting the paint describe each piece. Only recently has he allowed the paper to tell the whole story, as it does in his Black Paper Series. From  mundane objects like cafeteria trays and microscopes to surprising organic forms, Murphy has taken a step away from the realistic and toward the metaphoric. “The black paper series has a lot of different meanings for me. Some of the pieces reference memories from my childhood; others are symbols, which I find to be important for my life now.”  Despite this change in direction, the pieces are no less intricate than his other work, each one a scale-perfect representation of its real-life counterpart. If the devil is in the details, then Murphy is right there with him.
Splitting his time these days between the demands of his commercial work and those of his more personal pieces, Murphy has reached a creative equilibrium, which he hopes to maintain. “I actually really enjoy doing both. The watches take lots of careful measuring and planning - and require a lot of thought to translate complicated features such as curved metal, diamonds, leather straps, etc into the language of paper. My personal work (such as the black series) will hopefully continue to evolve and change, and eventually lead to more ideas and new series of works. At this point, I can't imagine only working on one set or type of work, I need the break from one or the other to keep me balanced.”
For more on Daniel Sean Murphy, see his website  Writer and blogger Paul Overton is the force behind



Please signup or login to comment