Local artist, model and entrepreneur Nicholas Murray is turning creative expression into enterprise
By Liz Massey, October 2017 Issue.
There is an old bit of advice to artists that encourages them to focus their talents and not spread themselves too thinly. But the other side of that argument is this: when you have a confluence of multiple strengths, each skill amplifies the others. Think of a mighty river, like the Mississippi or the Colorado – what are they beyond a gathering of countless tributary streams?
Similarly, Nicholas Murray’s creativity flows out of him in numerous ways, including drawing, painting, modeling, T-shirt/logo design, photography, photo editing and so much more. He has channeled these talents by organizing their output into his business, Dupree Art Studio LLC.
“Dupree Art Studio reflects me as a Renaissance man,” he said. “[I]t reflects me as a person [and] allows me to use these different mediums for artistic expression.”
While Murray’s creativity may flow from him in many directions, it has but one source.
“Different ideas, emotions, concepts, amongst many other things, can be evoked and presented through the vehicle of art,” Murray shared with readers of his blog in an early entry on the site. “This is mainly why art is so important to me personally.”
Finding Initial Inspiration
From childhood, Murray said he was encouraged to engage in the visual and performing arts. His mother and grandmother, who joined forces to raise him and his sister, viewed the arts as a good way to keep their offspring involved and focused.
“My mom wanted us to be active,” he noted. “She didn’t want us to become stagnant. I was involved in sports here and there, but I never really connected with that.”
Instead, Murray’s childhood was filled with drawing, playing alto sax in school as well as taking dance classes in jazz, tap and ballet. He learned early that the act of bringing his creations to life was the fire that lit his soul.
“I can create and be involved in art all day long and not get tired,” he said. “That’s how I know that’s where I’m supposed to be.”
By the time he went to college at Arizona State University, he had developed a passion for animation and dreamed of working for Disney. Although those dreams never came true, he said, the degree program did expose him to other fine arts disciplines, and that was significant for his professional development.
“The prerequisite classes for animation included life drawing and sculpture,” Murray remembered. “I enjoyed them, they showed me what I was good at, and it helped me figure out what I liked. … I eventually realized that animation wasn’t the path for me, but by then I knew I had other options to express myself artistically.”
Walking the (Cat)Walk
Nicholas Murray on the runway at Phoenix Fashion Week 2016. Photo by Bill Gemmill.
Although much of Murray’s art-making involves creating visual fine art, another aspect of his career finds him embodying art as a model. Murray has been glimpsed modeling clothes and accessories at a number of Valley events, most notably at Phoenix Fashion Week, where he was a Top 40 model.
According to Murray, he sees his modeling work as an extension of the dance and performing arts activities he did as a kid, and relishes the opportunity to use his body as the canvas.
“You have to have a fierce walk on the catwalk,” he explained. “You can’t second-guess yourself … instead of putting your images on canvas, you’re representing the clothes. You, as the model, become the composition in which the viewer is able to create their own personal interpretation.”
Further, Murray said he viewed his footwork while in the fashion spotlight as a parallel to his creative choices when he’s making his own art.
“The way I walk when modeling depends on what’s being portrayed,” he said, “t’s like the colors of a painting.”
Painting it Forward
The concept of community, inclusive of the many groups that Murray aligns with, is never far from his mind. One of his primary creative influences is the Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas, whom Murray admires for the way he incorporated African themes and history into his work.
“I found it really cool that he appreciated where he came from, and found beauty in our culture,” Murray said.
Murray pays forward his community commitment by connecting with younger artists and supporting after-school programs that emphasize the fine arts and digital art-making/music. He’s worked with LGBTQ youth through one•n•ten, as well as other programs serving a broad range of Valley youth.
Kema Charles, the executive director of the youth educational nonprofit Lights Camera Discover, has observed Murray’s dedication though his actions.
“His dedication to the youth of our community is amazing,” Charles said. “Before he was a board member for our organization, he held a special fundraiser to support the youth of our program. We are very pleased with his efforts and look forward to using his knowledge and skills to reach more of our youth.”
Another way Murray has advanced LGBTQ causes locally has been by staying active in the Devils’ Pride alumni chapter at ASU. Throughout the past five years, he coordinated the art auction that the chapter hosts at its annual fundraising dinner for its scholarship fund, linking Sun Devil supporters with the work of queer and ally artists in Phoenix.
All of this fulfills part of his role as a gay black artist in the broader social justice movement, he said, adding that he believes “artists absolutely have a role in creating equality.”
Turning Expression into Enterprise
One of the reasons Murray may have already demonstrated his staying power in the Phoenix art scene is because he’s viewed his efforts as part of a larger business enterprise. He complemented his 2005 fine arts undergraduate degree from ASU with an MBA from the University of Phoenix in 2012, and augments his art career income with landlording, a daytime position in higher education as well as other pursuits.
“I knew getting an MBA would be an asset for my future,” he said. “It’s helping me promote and make an impact with my art.”
As with his creative pursuits, the business services offered by Dupree Art Studio are diverse, and include commissions, charcoal drawings, acrylic paintings, wedding photography, modeling and logo/apparel creation, including his popular “Power to the Peaceful” line (see sidebar).
Can the generation of would-be artists coming along behind Murray imitate his habits and achieve success similar to his? Murray thinks so, if they’re willing to show some old-fashioned stick-to-it-tive-ness.
“Do not let outside negativity drown out your creativity,” he asserted. “Use your asset and what you’re good at to your advantage and know that you can create beautiful things. Always be yourself and evolve from there!”
For more on Nicholas Murray and Dupree Art Studio, like DuPreeArts on Facebook, follow @DuPreeArtStudio on Instagram or visit dupreeartstudio.com.
Wearing is Caring
One way that Nicholas Murray has expressed his desire to make an impact on the larger community has been through the development of his “Power to the Peaceful” apparel campaign.
The effort includes T-shirts and tank tops emblazoned with figures in meditative and reflective poses.
According to Murray, the creation of this apparel line is as much about his own inner peace as it is outer peace.
“The campaign focuses on our similarities and the importance of love,” he said. “I use it as a reminder to be happy and to uplift others and to mainly spread peace.”
For more on Nicholas Murray’s Power to the Peaceful apparel campaign, visit dupreeartstudio.com/product-category/tshirts.