It Doesn’t Hurt to be Nice: Words of Bushwick Based Female Street Artist Murrz
I’d walked by the JMZ gate several times, where Murrz had painted ‘Biggie the Pooh.’ The Lawton Street gate was part of an assemblage celebrating a line of female artists. They were all top-notch, but Murrz's piece of Biggie caught my attention; the Notorious image has always been of interest to me.
We chatted in bits and pieces over a few months before I reached out for the interview. Fellow Bushwick residents, we met up at Lil Mo’s to talk about pop culture, fangirls, and artistic courage.
“Hello, hello.” Murrz chimed, as I set up the mic.
My first question — where does Murrz come from?
“It’s silly. I work for an advertising agency called Concept Farm. So the theme of the agency is like a farm.” She chuckled. “So people used to say my name in a southern accent. My name is Mary, so it was like murry, and then murrz. And I was like hey, I like that name!”
Murrz has been living in Bushwick for over a decade now, grew up in New Jersey, and was born in the Philippines. When moving to the U.S., her family came with nothing but the American dream. Murrz was 5 at the time, and didn’t speak English.
"Not knowing how to speak the language… in order to communicate, or get my feelings down, I would draw.”
This sentiment is part of what draws Murrz to the creative life. “Art is something that covers all languages, all cultures.” She elaborated; “it’s one of the most powerful things - whether it’s written, or painted, or drawn.”
Her first drawing was a teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Murrz has experimented with images all her life, drawing from the mindset: “how do I get my thoughts and ideas on paper? How do I express myself?”
Her dad and brother are both artists. They went to school for art, while Murrz did not. However, she was inspired by their work. "They had a natural talent. And seeing them create things, I was like, I could do that. But,” she explained, “for me its practice. The more I practiced, the better I got.”
Murrz tools of choice are pen and paper. “I want to do more watercolor, but it is harder to control than a pen. And I like control.” She said laughing. Murrz primary interest as an artist is illustration with a strong penchant for storytelling.
Feeling Out a Style
“To be honest, I feel like I’m still trying to figure out what my style is.” Murrz explained.
She has several staples in her roster. Biggie the Pooh being one, but also her distinctive panda character. So, why pandas?
“Well one, pandas are the freaking cutest. And two, it speaks to Asian culture.”
Murrz has gotten some pushback, with people accusing her characters of being too Asiatic. Murrz dismissed the haters. Art reflects the artist. If people can’t respect that, why check out her page? Amid other things, Murrz has been reflecting on her heritage lately due to the volume of news coverage coming out of the Philippines, much of it negative. And the news hits hard.
Murrz explained to me: “on a personal level, I’ve been sketching a lot in connection to that.” In her sketches, she’s been exploring her ancestral link to the islands. “I’ve been writing phrases like; for my people, save my people.”
Being an introvert, Murrz is self-conscious of what she posts. "When it comes to social media, you’ve always gotta put out a better face.” While Insta can be a strong promotional tool, it also has the effect of a fun-house mirror, distorting perception and reality. Murrz doesn’t get hung-up on the bullshit. “I’m not much of an open person.” She explained. “I don’t like spilling things out there too much.”
Despite her shy nature, Murrz isn’t afraid to get out and get up. Her first mural was with JMZ Walls [“Shout out to Alberto!”] at Linn’s Laundromat. It was difficult, given her unfamiliarity with the medium. A spray-can can be intimidating, even to a master of the pen. Still, Murrz stepped up to the challenge.
Since then, she’s worked with JMZ on other murals. In particular, the Lawton gate. “Every wall I’d done, had been of my panda character. So as a challenge to myself, I wanted to try something different.” Instead, she opted for Biggie the Pooh. In the Notorious likeness, Pooh has the distinctive crown and sweater, with some 100 Acre Wood charm. The piece was hard for Murrz, and she struggled with the Coogi Sweater. I said it looked great. Seemingly grateful, Murrz was somewhat evasive toward compliments.
She explained, “Of course as an artist, you’re your biggest critic."
Shouts & Inspirations
In addition to the murals at Linn’s and Lawton, Murrz has painted two at The Gallery Bar in Bushwick, and two more in Miami. Murrz dropped down for Basel in 2016, to see her homegirl Aquarela, whom she met when Aquarela visited the Big City for a wall with the Bushwick Collective, she then invited Murrz to come south.
The trip was a good experience for Murrz, where she got to vibe with “really cool peoples.” While in Miami, Murrz painted a piece at the Wood Tavern, thanks to Nicole Salgar and Didi Contreras who hooked her up with a spot in Little Havana.
“So you know, girl power. Shout out to them.” Murrz cheered.
I asked Murrz if she ever considered doing a mural tour. “I’m not even sure if I’m ready yet, to travel and do murals. Also… I have a career.” She laughed. Murrz talked about balancing confidence and humility. You don’t want to be arrogant, but you can’t be self-critical to the point of crippling.
I asked Murrz if she considered herself a street artist. “Well, no, ‘cuz I don’t do street art all the time.” She articulated her thought further; “it took me a while to even consider myself an artist, in general. For me, since I haven't been in the game as long as the people who inspired me…. I don’t want to be put in any category, other than as an artist.”
Among those who have inspired her, Murrz cites a wide-range. Lady Pink [a pioneer], BK Foxx [she’s made a name, shaking up the game], TMO Plater [an illustrator, and fellow JMZ Wall collaborator,] Marthallicia [representing Harlem], Alan Zhang [“I totally fan-girled when I discovered his work through the #Inktober hashtag”] — these are a few of her many influences. Murrz has a deep respect for the artistry.
Murrz got to see true masters of the craft when she watched Tats Cru battle it out at Secret Walls. Secret Walls is a mural competition with strict rules — 90 minutes, no pencils, no sketching, and just black paint. Tats Cru were facing another graffiti team at the Temper Tot Lot for the event. Tats Cru crushed it. They finished in 40 minutes, detailing an intricate wall, just in black.
“I was like ‘yooo, they showed up.' They showed the young cats how you do it.” Murrz recalled.
With her own art, Murrz is always trying to grow by learning.
“I’m always looking through my explorer feed on instagram. There’s so much out there.”
It Doesn’t Hurt to be Nice
I popped by a pop-up show to visit Murrz at the Scrapyard, an icon of graffiti history. When she first got the offer, she was hesitant. “I was like, don’t say yes, you won’t sleep for a week… but of course I wasn’t gonna turn down an invite from the legendary Scrapyard!”
Murrz has been featured in others shows, such as one in Chelsea at the MAD Gallery. “That one I really didn’t sleep preparing for it.” At first, she was nervous, as most of the artists were painters, and she wasn’t sure if they would be accepting of her work. In the end, “it was cool to see how open they were to my art.”
“I like artists that look to, and inspire, each other.”
The first artist Murrz got close to is Zero Productivity. They met while doing a Free Art Friday run, and clicked over similar interests. We joked about what it’s like to know people only through their art, and then to meet the artist and not know what to expect. Murrz talked about meeting Chris RWK, “[one] of the most humble people I’ve ever met.” He’s like a big brother to her. She often looks to him for advice – on matters such as technique, art supplies, and life.
Unfortunately, not every experience has been so positive. Murrz related some anecdotes of artists who acted like assholes when she tried to approach them.
“Like damn, it doesn’t hurt to be nice.”
Still, community is a part of what draws Murrz to the street art scene. “To have a strong group of artists to support you, that’s the positive part of being here.”
“Especially in New York, artists are a dime a dozen. You’ve really gotta hustle hard to get your name out there. And it’s so easy to get discouraged.”
Murrz has been discouraged. When she began sharing her art, there was negativity. "When I first got the courage to start posting things on Instagram… the DMs I got were horrible”
‘Your work is shit’
‘Why do you have so many followers?’
"And that shit was like… heart wrenching. You’re like, maybe 'I’m not good enough to be in the game…' but I had people in my corner, like 'no just keep doing your work.'” Her friends and followers encouraged her. “If not for you, do it for the people who want to keep seeing your work.”
Like everyone, Murrz has seen the ups-and-downs of social media.
“I can’t knock it… if it wasn’t for Instagram, how would I have met all these amazing artists that inspire me?”
Murrz utilizes instagram as a tool to discover new artists or find out what gallery shows are going on.
It’s best to remember to separate the digital from the real. "Art is never the same as it is in person.”
Murrz had described herself as a fangirl, and was very supportive of the artists who inspire her. I asked her about her own fan-base, and how she interacts with them.
“I don’t want to be that artist, that’s an asshole. I’ll always say thank you.”
Despite the occasional backlash, Murrz celebrates the positivity. “A lot of people just want to go out of their way to be negative.” She always offer encouragement to those who are sincere.
“I offer that to everyone, everyone of my followers. If you’re an upcoming artist, if you feel like you need someone to talk to, you can talk to me about it. Just don’t send me unsolicited dick pics.” She said laughing. Summarizing her thoughts on the matter; “really, all I can say is… pray for your haters.”
I asked Murrz about self-criticism and art.
“I’m a professional over thinker.” She said laughing. “You should ask my friends how I am.”
Sometimes the fear of hate makes her hesitate, but she pushes through it. “If I want to post it, it shouldn’t matter."
And to the future? I asked Murrz about her long-term plans.
“I don’t know… I asked myself this question at Scope in Basel.”
She recollected; “all these artists had an amazing body of work. It took them like 10-30 years to get there."
Murrz continued; “so, in my head I was like, do I want to keep pursuing this as an artist?”
She’s entertained the idea of going into curation.
“At the end of the day, I’m an art fangirl and I want everyone to love the artists that I love."
Murrz shrugged and smiled.
“I don’t know… but what I do know, is when I get home, and I draw... It’s the most clarity that I get all day.”
Photo courtesy of Murrz