Life is beautiful at every stage for ceramicist Katie Ridley Murphy, known for her hand-carved porcelain pieces that painstakingly recreate found objects in moments of lush ripeness and graceful decay: fleshy melons and papayas dotted with seeds, dried-out sticks and leaves, and loose banana peels and shriveled lemons. In Murphy’s hands, these otherwise ordinary materials assume monumental grandeur, every splinter and bruise rendered in baffling detail—and made all the more surreal in her dreamlike palette of black, white and soft pastels.
Exploring the hidden intricacies of nature is central to Murphy’s creative practice, especially the WRK Porcelain venture she founded in 2015. Each piece begins with foraging for real life specimens to serve as models; for the artist’s first sculptures, she favored the weathered twigs she found while hiking Arabia Mountain, an otherworldly “moonscape in the middle of Georgia.” Soon she was combing local farmer’s markets for oddly shaped produce to imitate, cutting open her selections to expose their ripe flesh, or “letting things spoil,” notes the artist. “The more something rots, the more texture emerges. It’s amazing what a fruit can turn into.”
Once a specimen is chosen, hard work and some heartbreak await. At her home studio in East Point, Georgia—which she shares with husband and fellow artist Jason Murphy—she begins by molding clay by hand. The shapes slowly emerge throughout several drying stages, with Murphy hand-carving the contours in the final, chalk phase. “That’s when I take the pins and needles and do the teeny, tiny details,” explains the artist, who favors a soft matte finish as “anything too shiny takes away from the texture.”
Serious peril looms during the firing stage, as the delicate forms “sometimes explode,” notes Murphy. “It’s heartbreaking to spend months on pieces, only to open the kiln and realize that half of them blew up.” Yet the artist has come to embrace these moments of destruction as potential occasions for regeneration. Inspired by the traditional Japanese repairing technique of Kintsugi, she may fuse broken parts back together with silver, or “sometimes I just let the fissures and cracks be part of the object, which almost makes it seem more alive.”
Finding fresh life in broken, discarded things has become a treasured lesson in the wonders of looking closer. “I definitely look for objects to inspire me constantly,” says the artist. “I may just need to wait for things to come find me.”
PHOTOS BY AUDRA MELTON