Artist Todd Murphy’s death in Brooklyn at 57 from cancer left behind his wife Liane, five children and a devastated design community. Murphy’s iconic artwork, combining painting and photography, could be found in an array of prominent area homes, notable Atlanta restaurants like Himitsu and Two Urban Licks and in the personal spaces of top Atlanta tastemakers. Designer Melanie Turner and her husband, developer Stan Benecki, knew Murphy for 20-plus years and count more than 30 of Murphy’s works in their personal collection.
“He was bigger than life. Everyone loved Todd,” says Benecki, testifying to Murphy’s ability to create not only emotionally resonant work but also his talent for connecting deeply with other people. “His study and love of art was only superseded by his study and love of people,” notes Murphy’s twin sister Gina Solomon.
“There was a sense of timelessness to all he created,” says Solomon who saw a reverence for life, for the natural world, for science and for spirituality in her brother’s work. Murphy’s images of kingfishers and lions, hummingbirds and deer had a metaphysical quality that spoke to both art world insiders and new collectors. Steeped in theatricality, Murphy’s artworks shaped the spaces where they resided with their very presence. That quality made him especially beloved by Atlanta designers who saw how his work could lend gravitas to a room.
Turner and Benecki found Murphy’s work uniquely compelling when placed in homes where his artworks’ innate drama and grandeur spoke to a variety of people, often with very different tastes. “He elevated the spaces,” says Turner of how Murphy’s art could impact a room. In a certain project of the couple’s, Turner attests, “It sold because of Todd’s pieces.”
Benecki sees Murphy’s legacy in Atlanta as akin to architects like Neel Reid or Philip T. Shutze who have become part of the city’s culture.
“His art is both elegant and disruptive,” says designer Kelly Anthony of Wolf Design Group, who not only owns Murphy’s works, but has selected them for many clients’ homes as well. For Anthony, that delicate balance was what made his body of work speak to so many different Atlantans—and firmly aligned him with the city’s identity. Says Anthony, “He started in Atlanta and his legacy will always remain in Atlanta.”