Alumna helps grow UQ’s artistic vision
The visual arts are Jan Murphy’s passion.
As the owner of one of Brisbane’s leading contemporary galleries, she spends her days nurturing Australian artists, evoking enthusiasm in clients and working to boost the industry.
Ms Murphy said the arts had been extremely kind to her and she wanted to give back.
“My time at UQ was very important because it was a place where I learnt who I was as much as gaining an art history degree,” she said.
“To watch the museum become such a magnificent institution, and then be able to pledge money to grow that institution – how can you refuse?”
Ms Murphy came from a family where art filled the walls and artists were regular visitors. Her grandparents owned a gallery and her father was an art dealer.
“I used to go to friends’ houses and think it was particularly strange when they had nothing on their walls. It was just what I grew up with – like breathing,” she said.
While Ms Murphy’s artistic education started early, she never planned on owning her own gallery.
After graduating from UQ, her first curatorial job was at the Heide Museum in Melbourne.
However, her entrepreneurial drive soon took hold.
“I bought a painting by a Queensland artist while at a Melbourne auction and came back to Brisbane on my holidays and sold it for a profit,” Ms Murphy said.
“I thought to myself – this is a pretty good gig!”
At the age of 27, she had opened her first small gallery, next door to the current space.
“When you own your own business, you don’t often stop to feel proud of yourself,” she said.
“At our 10th anniversary party, everyone was walking in, all dressed up and I thought, ‘gosh, if I’ve made it this far, maybe I can keep on going’.”
The gallery is now in its 16th year of operation and Ms Murphy attributes her success and longevity to tenacity, and being extremely organised.
“I’ve also been fortunate to have incredibly loyal clients who believe in me; many who’ve been with me from my first show,” she said.
The passion Ms Murphy has for her industry and the artists she works with is contagious.
“You get to work with the most astonishing people – they will open your eyes to things that no one else can make you see,” she said.
“For example, I drive down a country road and I see a landscape by (Sir Hans) Heysen, or drive out towards Docklands and I see Jeffrey Smart. You just become absorbed into their worlds.
“My clients would say that too, and in opening their eyes, I like to think they go back to their own worlds with a different perspective.”
The UQ Art Museum had its beginnings in a transformative act of philanthropy, when James O’Neil Mayne and his sister Mary Emelia Mayne donated the land for the University’s St Lucia site in 1926.
In 2004, the museum moved from the Forgan Smith Building to the new James and Mary Emelia Mayne Centre (formerly Mayne Hall), with the refurbishment made possible with a generous $5 million gift from The Atlantic Philanthropies.
The UQ Art Museum’s collection comprises more than 2500 works, and is Queensland’s second-largest public art collection in terms of value and size.
“Everyone has their own need to connect with something. You can support in so many ways, for example going to the shows,” Ms Murphy said.
“I feel a strong connection to UQ as an institution, and to the art museum Director and the staff out there – I like what they are doing to bring the smaller, academic shows to life.”
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