Creator of uncommon architectural elements, sculpture, and furniture.

Arts & Culture

Interview with Kelly Murphy of MC2, creator of uncommon architectural elements, sculpture, and furniture.

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“Steel”, “Concrete” and “art” are not words that one would connect naturally. What drew you to this unusual field of artistic expression?

I’ve been a computer guy for my entire adult career. Everything from graphic design to networks and systems administration. About 15 years ago I grew tired of everything I created being printed on paper. It’s not all that satisfying when you can’t feel and touch your creations. At the same time, I’m pragmatic, so I wanted most of what I built to serve a function.

While I enjoy working with wood, I recognize that I’m not all that proficient with the medium. Getting the shapes and strength I need requires a much more developed set of skills. That’s when I decided to use steel and concrete. I still had to work on my welding, cutting, mixing, and forming skills; but I found the process and the end products immensely satisfying.

Many artists who work in steel and concrete end up with pieces in a brutalist style. I’m not fond of that look, so I shoot for making more organic subjects with non-conventional materials. Still, I guess you’d have to call me an industrial artist.


Where do the creative ideas for the MC2 architectural designs come from?

Well, for me, I have to see something to get that spark of inspiration. My favorite part of the process is letting the concept evolve in my head, all the while figuring out how to design it in a digital world, being mindful that I’ll eventually have to build it in the real world. I’ll often spend hours just pushing shapes and materials around in various software applications before I land on something unique and pursue it to the end. In the end there’s almost no resemblance to whatever inspired me, but I feel good about the results. 


Can you describe for us the process from design through completion?

Going back to my computer roots, it’s my number one tool for creation. In fact, I’d say that on most jobs more than half the time that goes into a piece is the computer design, layout, and build technique. Next I have to figure out which computer-controlled tools will help me achieve the best final product. Since its software, and computer-controlled equipment, I strive for a high degree of precision in my steel work, and consistent and repeatable patterns and designs in my concrete work.

Sometimes I’ll have to throw out parts, or change entire designs because I simply don’t possess the equipment or skills to build it. I’ll keep the designs though, and more than once I’ve returned to a design years later and completed the vision.


Fabricating steel with an artistic flair must require extraordinary effort. What is the most difficult part of the process?

Steel and concrete are heavy, dirty materials. I often walk into my house black from the carbon and oils on steel, or nearly white from mixing and pouring concrete all day. Add to that my pieces can weigh anywhere from hundreds to several thousands of pounds. Maneuvering massive pieces into place and keeping the accuracy and precision I strive for can be a real challenge. My chosen medium requires cranes and lifts, tractors, welders and plasma cutters, and ultimately large trucks and trailers for delivery. Even my smallest piece, ”Steed”, weighs in at almost 70 pounds. I’m conscious about my health and taking care of my body, so I try to use the equipment to avoid hurting myself.


Tell us about a few of the more unusual, or as you call them "uncommon" pieces you have created over the years?

One of the strangest would have to be the concrete work. I got the inspiration for concrete cabinet doors because I was looking at building an outdoor kitchen area. Of course, everything had to be waterproof, so I began researching waterproof materials. This led me to the idea of building concrete doors to highlight the patio. I started researching different types of high-strength concrete and took classes in artistic concrete. Knowing that the doors would weigh as much as 40 pounds, I researched specialty hinges from around the world. The real challenge was getting the hinges to marry to the doors. Three years later, I had the world’s first concrete cabinet door system. My first pieces had flowing patterns of inlaid river rock to represent the river next to my home and studio. Again, it’s my desire to achieve organic and flowing pieces from hard and unforgiving materials.


What is "oragami" fabrication and how is it used?

One client approached me with one of my biggest challenges. He wanted pieces that were sculptural, beautiful, steel, and functional as landscaping pieces. Essentially functional outdoor art. Bending and rolling steel requires very costly equipment far beyond my budget; especially considering that the jobs that require it are rare.  Ironically, around that time I was visiting Seattle’s small China Town district and saw many examples of creating artwork out of small pieces of paper. This inspired the origami design of my boulder-shaped planters.


When you’re not hard at work what brings you the most enjoyment?

My wife, Beverly, and I are very involved in landscaping our property. Sometimes we’ll work for several years designing “an area” before we begin the installation. With five acres, we generally work on one small piece at a time but try to make it impactful enough to make a difference in the overall appearance. This gives us a slightly eclectic look, but hopefully someday it’ll all tie together.

We also make time for camping and traveling of all kinds. We do a lot of reading, and even writing. Most recently we are throwing ourselves into cooking. Multi-course meals of Spanish Tapas and Chinese Dim Sum prepared for friends. It’s a lot of fun.


Tell us what you hope your clients understand about yourself and MC2.

One of my favorite experiences is working with a client who is passionate about the end product. The synergistic effect of two invested parties often yields remarkable results. Sometimes the piece grows into something much more dynamic than either of us realize at the onset. It’s a great feeling for me to be challenged, and the client to be happy. 

I make it clear right up front that steel and concrete are expensive and difficult to work with. If you’re thinking of doing something pedestrian like planters, don’t pick steel because you think it’s less expensive. Steel and concrete achieve a look that’s much more contemporary than wood, but that look comes at a premium. 

I still have a hard time considering myself an artist. For that reason, I don’t put the “artist tax” on any of my pieces.
I need to be covered for the materials I use, equipment I depreciate, and my time for design and construction.