Walking into the studio of Irvine-born, L.A.-based artist duo (and brothers) Shelby and Sandy, you are immediately transported to another world; a world of possibilities, creativity and fun. The space vibrates with creative energy and seems to exist in a place that is in between eras of art history, bringing all moments in time together simultaneously, and between levels of our human imagination, straddling the boundaries of serious work and playful experimentation.
This studio space is truly representative of the artists – Shelby and Sandy Murphy are two of four brothers all raised in Irvine, and have been making collaborative-based artworks together for about five years. They are funny, charming, imaginative and hard-working individuals. Their work is classic while simultaneously innovative. Their story is simple, and although their career is only beginning, it is easy to tell that these artists are in for the long haul and we’ve only just begun to see their creativity in action.
This artistic duo creates work in a variety of mediums and styles, all with a playful and nostalgic energy. Their visual aesthetic can be summarized as contemporary pop art, but is more complicated than that – their work blends the aesthetics of pop art with classic animation and finish fetish, but uses elements of fan art, minimalism, surrealism and lowbrow to create their specific brand of bright, fun and highly sought-after artwork. They make a lot of custom commission work, but often pay homage to popular cartoon characters, movie scenes, nostalgic childhood paraphernalia and straightforward color-play.
When they first began collaborating seriously, around 2013, Shelby and Sandy’s artwork was initially coveted by a handful of celebrities, international businessmen and a select few in-the-know collectors. With just a few pieces of their own designs broadcast on Instagram for the whole world to see, they began getting commissions in their style of painting, which led to some more, which led to more. While Instagram was really gaining momentum in the social sphere, Shelby and Sandy were building their brand and clientele simultaneously, all with Instagram’s help.
Five years later, Shelby and Sandy are creating artworks for Zac Efron, Nick Cannon, Bradley Cooper, Lucy Hale, Edgar Ramirez, Westfield Century City, Children’s Hospital of Orange County and label artwork for Color Wine. They also are working on a number of clothing items, furniture designs and towels (which can currently be found in the MOCA L.A. gift shop). Their signature style – whether on canvas, board, car, towel or clothing – is a mix of replicating 1990s classic cartoon animation stills with a unique painterly spin, add a hint of humor, a splash of nostalgia, and a dash of high finish, you’ve got an iconic Shelby and Sandy art piece.
Working seven days a week in their studio and often sleeping there three-to-four nights a week, it’s no surprise that these hard-working dudes made their studio comfortable, creative and fun. When we got the opportunity to visit, we were escorted throughout the space by a tiny gray fluffball/teacup poodle named Spooky that made sure we were being licked at all times and familiar with all the games and toys in the warehouse. While the work space of this warehouse is epically large and perfect for a project of any size, Shelby and Sandy also created a loft-office, fully loaded with artificial turf for carpet and walls covered in their signature happy clouds. Every surface in the studio bathroom is covered in the perfectly fluffy cumulus clouds as well. The kitchen they’ve built out in this space is like if Rene Magritte, Andy Warhol, Marge Simpson and Baddie Winkle had an orgy baby and the baby happen to be a kitchen – this would be that baby – bright, fun and surreal. They also have a play/hang zone full of vintage arcade games, colorful collectibles and even a claw machine with beanie babies inside.
The entire space is perfect for dreaming – stark white walls and ceilings in the majority of the workspace are conducive to any creative thinking, art-making or Instagram photo taking, but the details are imaginative and playful as well. All of what this duo creates is inspired by the lives they’ve lived and the world they grew up in – skateboarding, playing outside, watching Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons, and making arts and crafts with their family in Irvine.
Shelby and Sandy grew up in Irvine with their other brothers in a classic suburban family environment. Growing up in bunk beds in the same room for most of their adolescence, they had a lot of time for activities and were encouraged to create when given any opportunity. Sandy told us in an interview that they were never bored, and always found projects, art, experiments or games to engage their creativity if they didn’t have anything else to do. Whether they were climbing trees, teaching voodoo in the cul-de-sac of their childhood house, playing dress-up with mom, painting or drawing in chalk, the boys in the Murphy household were cultivated with creativity; thanks to their art-loving colorful mom, Diana.
Huge fans of Irvine, Shelby and Sandy visit their childhood home often and are very close with their brothers, mother and father. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Irvine may have been a quiet and quaint place, but it was also a blank canvas for imaginative youth, providing a great neutral space for dreamers to dream and for kids to be kids, without the dangers of a more urban environment. Shelby and Sandy both admitted that they have always been making art – it was a part of growing up in their household. Shelby said that they still get craft and art supplies for Christmas every year. It’s a tradition at this point, and they love that. Although it seems commonplace, it was the small acts of encouragement like those art supply presents that emboldened them to be courageous and unabashed artists today. Many kids grow up without a spark of creative encouragement from their parents or don’t feel confident enough playing in creative moments.
If the art scene in Southern California was a bit bigger they would still live in Irvine, but because of the vast warehouses available right in the middle of the downtown art scene in Los Angeles, along with the scale of their more recent projects and the materials involved, having an L.A. studio just makes more sense for them. Although their studio is in downtown L.A., they now live in the South Bay, making their regular trips home to mom and dad’s a bit easier.
Although Shelby and Sandy have only been making art professionally for about five years, their portfolio of work is prolific and inspiring. They work hard, create what they want, and try to be nice to everyone. Their artwork engages all types of people, explores the power of images, and activates nostalgia, whimsy and creativity in their viewers. As their studio walls loudly whisper, “shelby and sandy are nice.” It is clear that for these nice guys, this is just the beginning.