Time Capsules on Canvas with Shelley Murfitt
Georgia Beard follows our cover artist from suburban Sunshine Coast to the shores of Italy as she revisits her memories through the modest magic of still life and landscapes. Meet Shelley Murfitt!
A palette so dappled with colour she can no longer see the surface; a painter’s rag more like a security blanket than a tool; and a workspace cluttered with everyday bric-a-brac from glass bottles to moka pots and sprays of flowers.
This is how Shelley Murfitt paints.
Her open-air studio is an oasis for much-needed self-expression, an escape from the demands of work and motherhood.
Hanging a canvas on her wall and displaying still life at her side, she often disappears from her suburban home to a beach in Porto Venere or an apartment in La Spezia.
Memories of her European sojourns take shape as she arranges a bowl of olives, a slice of pawpaw, a teacup.
With her brush as their mouthpiece, sometimes the objects tell their own stories.
Our sweet, sun-soaked cover art comes from summer in the Tuscan hills, stirring the image of an extended family gathering around long tables for afternoon lunch in a villa courtyard.
This vision of Shelley’s emerged when she bought a bunch of pears from Erbachers in Maroochydore and cut olive branches from her backyard tree.
“It gave me that feeling of harvesting and preparing for a lazy Sunday long lunch. That’s why I called it Lazy Sunday Pears,” she says.
“I didn’t have that in my mind when I first started, but the story started coming together. It starts with one object and then it just evolves.”
Much like the malleable nostalgia of her portraits, Shelley’s artistic skill in still life developed over a decade of travel, creative study and career opportunities.
As a teenager winning art prizes and a young woman studying marketing and graphic design, her focus remained on bold, expressive abstracts. Then she began attending life drawing classes, which taught her to recognise the beauty in simple objects we often overlook.
“When you’re painting from life, there’s energy and emotion in the room and you can see the object, the light and shade and depth, so I think it makes your painting a lot more vibrant,” she says.
Now her eye will catch on any object, and she’ll sketch the details in her head – like the curves, colours and shadows of the potted succulent on her wooden table, as she points out to me.
Shelley’s artwork first appeared in Café Envy and Sunshine Coast Collective Markets before she began live painting in a figurative style for business launches and cultural festivals.
After creating a mural of Angus and Julia Stone for Caloundra Fringe Festival in 2015, she landed other live painting gigs for Big Pineapple Music Festival and NOOSA alive!
Drawing on her experience as a graphic designer, her art also featured in the pamphlets, posters and merchandise for the Caloundra Music Festival from 2017 to 2019.
When Shelley gave birth to her daughter, she spent less time making art in the community and more time at home. Soon her fingers wandered to the paintbrush and acrylics again – not for others, but for herself.
Her passion for still life and landscape reignited, remembering her visits to Italy including a week-long oil painting workshop in Florence where she recreated a portrait from The Birth of Venus.
“I start with a sketch on the canvas and then block out the colours and midtones, adding shadow and light and balancing,” she says.
“The way I work is about making mistakes and then correcting them. More often than not, I can see when something doesn’t look right, and then I fix it.”
Shelley’s mastery of light and shade also reveals itself in Morning Light in La Spezia, pairing a vase of freesias with a slice of rockmelon and coffee to capture her time by the Italian seaside.
“At the Airbnb, there was one of these moka pots, and the freesias smelt amazing, so that one especially reminds me of La Spezia,” she says.
“I had fun playing with the shadows, and it gave me the feeling of morning sun coming in as you’re about to make a cup of coffee.”
Her landscapes also bloom from her memory; one reflects a rare moment when an Italian beach crowded with umbrellas emptied of all swimmers and sunbathers.
“That was in the late afternoon, and there was no one on the beach,” she says. “That’s why I called it Happy Hour at Monterosso because everyone was at the cafés and bars.”
As Shelley perfects her techniques and expands her evocative studies of ordinary life, her artwork regularly appears in local galleries from Flock Interiors to Define Art to Stevens Street Gallery, where she took part in this year’s Summer Fling and Be Still exhibitions.
Now she hopes to develop her own exhibitions and host workshops to share her knowledge with other emerging artists!
As her practice evolves, connection to time and place will remain at the heart of her work – taking us to memories of our own and encouraging us to pause, reflect and marvel at the mundane.