The Space

By J. Cooper Robb
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 9, 2005

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Jeff Fusco

Mike Murray
Occupation: Artist.
Neighborhood: South Philadelphia.
Style: 1,000-square-foot apartment/studio/gallery.

Artist Mike Murray's creatively renovated apartment/ studio/gallery space in South Philly was once a seriously dingy dive. Back in the '40s it was one of those neighborhood bars where glazed-over patrons sat hunched in front of glasses of cheap beer, and watched with passing interest as exotic dancers casually disrobed. The strippers and drinkers are long gone, but the bar's gorgeous old wood ceiling remains. Murray has transformed this relic from the city's past into an original space that he's divided into three distinct sections: a living area, a workshop and a gallery area where he displays his impressive works of art.


What was it like when you moved in?
"It had no lights or floor. I had to rip out the greasy stove. I ripped out the men's room, and put in a toilet and sink, and the women's room I turned into a standup shower. Since there was no floor I was able to reroute things easily."

Did you hire contractors?
"I did it all myself. It took about three years."

What part did you do first?
"I took down the wall that separated the kitchen and living area, and redid the floor. It was all drop ceilings, so I got rid of those and discovered the wood ceiling, which they unfortunately had put ducts in. I needed a place to sleep and live and an area to work, so I did the bedroom and the studio/ workshop next. When I started working on the gallery, I put up a wall between the gallery and the studio. It made the studio space smaller, but it worked well because the gallery now has two doors-one to the street and one to the studio. This way people don't have to walk through the studio to the gallery. I just finished it all in September."

Did you live here right from the start?
"I did, pretty much. Since I was doing all this work, my landlord gave me a good deal on the rent."

Does it get cold in the winter?
"It does. The ceilings are 10 and a half feet high, and the heating isn't great. I put radiators in, but I still wear two shirts all the time. It's not bad as long as you're keeping busy and moving around."

What do you call the gallery?
"It's called White Couch."

Has the neighborhood changed since you've been here?
"It has a lot. In three years I've watched them put up almost three full blocks of new housing."

What was the toughest part of the project?
"Everything, really. It's been a slow process. I guess the hardest thing has just been sticking to it. I'd rather be making the art. I'll want to work on a new piece and I can't because I have to put a showerhead or something in. I still find time to work on my art every day, but now that the gallery is done it'll be nice to have more time to do what I like."

Got a great space? Email J. Cooper Robb (jrobb@philadelphiaweekly.com) with your name, neighborhood and contact info.

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