Troy Murray, owner of TYP Collection in Birmingham, discovered his love of drawing to be a remedy on his path to recovery.
By Allison Jacobs
Photography by Rudy Thomas
Since age 8, drawing was an escape for Troy Murray. He began with simple sketches of cartoon characters and quickly developed a knack for sketching portraits. Murray preferred drawing after school to avoid teasing from his peers. But as he got older, he didn’t sweat being spotted with a pencil and drawing pad.
His current artist identity, “TYP,” was borrowed from the nickname, “Troy Pencils,” given to him during his teenage years. While Murray initially despised the nickname, it stuck.
Growing up, Murray didn’t picture himself becoming a professional artist. While he continued to draw freely during his younger years, he says he stopped at age 13 when he began experimenting with drugs.
After years of struggling with addiction, Murray hit his lowest point at 21 and began working toward recovery. During a stay at a rehabilitation center, he was reminded of his love of drawing and began sketching portraits of the people around him. Even after rehab, he kept going.
“I started drawing in my spare time again,” Murray says. “I didn’t have anything else in my life where I could turn off my brain or fight the urge to go out with my friends and pick up (drugs) again.”
Murray began sketching portraits nonstop, using graphite and later adding charcoal to the mix. He eventually worked up the courage to create an Instagram account dedicated to his art.
Before he knew it, Murray was booked with commission requests. He created at least one piece each week and began increasing the prices as his confidence grew.
“It wasn’t something that was a definite career path for me,” Murray says. “I just thought, ‘I might as well try to ride it out as long as I can.’ ”
Eager to expand his repertoire, he enrolled in the College for Creative Studies. While he enjoyed school, he found it challenging to keep up with courses on top of his commissioned pieces. That’s when he made the decision to put work first.
Several years later, he was introduced to Gene Krcelic, CEO of the Premier Foundation, a Christian-affiliated nonprofit in South Carolina, and it became a pivotal point in his career.
Krcelic saw potential in Murray and became his manager. Through their partnership, Murray taught art to girls in Cambodia who were victims of sex trafficking, and is involved with K-LOVE Hope Center, a faith-based organization in Detroit.
Through the Premier Foundation, Murray met fellow artist Jared Emerson, who specializes in performance speed painting in South Carolina. Emerson has become a mentor and friend, teaching Murray painting techniques.
“The ideas and concepts he comes up with are unexpected from when he first started,” Emerson says. “He still has a lot of learning to do, but he has also grasped more than most artists do in a lifetime.”
As Murray’s art evolved toward a multidimensional medium, he began searching for a studio. He initially envisioned himself in Detroit, but his mother had her eye on a storefront in downtown Birmingham, now called TYP Collection.
“I’ve had the space for a year and a half, and it has pushed me to work even harder,” says Murray, now 27 and a Birmingham resident. “I’ve really found a passion for alternative canvas style, where you take real objects and blend them with painting in order to try to tell a story in a different light.”
Recent pieces include his depiction of Muhammad Ali painted on a backdrop of cut-up boxing gloves and a dramatic series of hip-hop artists depicted against license plates signifying their hometown. The majority of his commissioned work features legendary musicians and athletes, but Murray also collaborates on large-scale works. He’s gearing up for the release of a 50-by-30-foot installation at Little Caesars Arena this summer.
Murray has also hosted several solo shows. His first was held at the restaurant 220 Merrill in Birmingham, where he completed his first live painting in front of 300 people. Another took place last year at TYP Collection. Titled “Controlled Chaos,” the show featured 12 personally meaningful portraits with abstract elements. Murray also recently collaborated on a show with Detroit Wick, a local company specializing in candles and objects encapsulated in glass.
He’s now in the depths of his latest body of work called “Exposed.” “It’s a collaborative series with different photographers and is based on a Scripture I like,” he says. “Things are ripped out and exposed — it’s about either exposing the beauty underneath, or your deepest darkest fears and trying to overcome those.”
Working on “Exposed” has inspired Murray to continue to share his challenges with addiction, both through his art and in the community. “I want to be better about being more vocal about my story,” Murray says. “… That’s the best thing I can do to give back for what I’ve been given.”
261 E. Merrill St., Birmingham
See a photo gallery of Troy’s work here.