If you ask M2 Gallery’s Mac Murphy about how he got into the business, he’s likely to tell you that opening a bookstore was too expensive for him, so he chose an art gallery instead. “Those were my two interests – art and books,” he says.
The decision to chose between the two, however, came later on, after a promising career in journalism. From a surprisingly young age – middle school – Murphy had a passionate interest in the field. He took that interest through high school and into college and beyond. After spending a year at Notre Dame, a school both too large and engineering-based for him, he headed to Hendrix to study English and History.
While there he tried to make big moves with the newspaper – The Profile.
“I got pushed out because I tried switching things up too much. I introduced liquor advertising for the first time which ramped it up … it became a full color publication,” he says.
He forged on, working for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway for a few years before eventually burning out. “I started seeing how I was either going to have to go to a big city where it’s a cutthroat work environment, or I was going to have to wait for somebody to die,” he says.
At that point, he moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and opened a gallery with the Deck the Walls franchise. He enjoyed working in a gallery atmosphere, and spent a little more than five years there before selling it to his dad. The gallery is still there, and is now known as M Gallery.
After getting his feet wet with gallery work there was no turning back. “I then moved to Fayetteville to meet up with a guy who had a gallery there. He was wanting to turn it around and make it profitable and sell it,” he says. Which is exactly what Murphy was able to help do. At that point, he met his wife, local photographer Ashley Murphy.
The two moved to Little Rock, and shortly after, Murphy was put in touch with John Magee, owner of Gallery B at the time. He was looking to turn it around and make it profitable, but the location on South Rodney Parham was a huge obstacle.
Magee and Murphy begin talking about opening a completely new gallery. Magee happened to be the leasing manager for the relatively new Pleasant Ridge Town Center, and with the two working together, M2 Gallery was born.
Aesthetically, the gallery harbors an upscale, yet accessible atmosphere, and hosts 30 artists at any given time, whether they are established or emerging. M2 also offers the largest custom art framing venture in the state.
“That’s my creative end of the business – the framing aspect of it,” Murphy explains. He first got into framing when in Fayetteville, and truly enjoys the design aspects.
Beyond the framing, Murphy stays busy with gallery business. He says, “Since day one, it’s been pretty much just me doing everything – hanging shows, finding artists. Although, my wife helps me find artists and keep the place organized down here.”
In the beginning, Murphy would have to seek out artists, but now, people come to him. He’s actually moving toward bringing more national artists in, saying, “It will bring fresh work to the market here.”
Speaking of the local art market, Murphy has mixed feelings. Although he believes there are many talented artists in Central Arkansas, he thinks we as an audience should have high fine art standards.
“When the economy shifted, you had a lot of people with a lot of time on their hands … trying to do art and trying to make some money that way. Some of them really progressed themselves to being major players, but a lot of them just kind of fizzled out. For a little while the market was flooded with, in my opinion, a little bit more mediocre work.”
M2 targets individuals who already consider themselves art collectors, although there is a wide range of pieces. “We try to span the gamut here … so we can cater to the emerging collector as well as the more seasoned collector,” he says.
When it comes to art he likes, Murphy leans toward “pieces that are a bit darker and edgier, and usually involve faces,” as he points to a single wall. Currently, the gallery exhibits a “face wall” which includes a line of pieces sporting facial profiles, moody eyes, and dark tones.
When M2 first opened, shows and special exhibits were more frequent than they are now, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not serious action planned for the upcoming months. Look for M2 to partner with Beige, a clothing store in downtown Little Rock for second Friday art night events. “Lisa Krannichfield will kick off our first one on Sept. 11,” he says. Also, on Sept. 12, there will be a “Steeped in Transition” show highlighting Ann Laser’s work from her recent artist residency trip in Ireland.
Although Murphy has seen progress as the scene unfolds locally, he still thinks there are miles to go, specifically when it comes to a mid-range music venue and public transit.
When not working, Murphy enjoys spending time with his wife and two children – Maddox and Phoenix.