Art News

Joe Murray Pushes Creativity and Community Through Art

Self-portrait by Joe Murray.
Self-portrait by Joe Murray. Auberon Design
In the before times, a secure job with health-care benefits and a retirement plan was often the goal. But when many of us were locked up at home during a global pandemic, our minds strayed somewhere more colorful than a cold cubicle.

During the early days of COVID, Joe Murray spent a lot of time escaping through art. Experimenting with digital drawing and refining skills gained through his background in graphic design, he created vibrant and whimsical illustrations that spoke to the internal struggle of wanting to express yourself creatively while feeling trapped by social expectations.
click to enlarge Joe Murray - JOE MURRAY AUBERON DESIGN
Joe Murray
Joe Murray Auberon Design
“It seemed like a lot of people during that time were experiencing a loss of self-worth,” recalls Murray. “People kept feeling like they were lazy or they weren’t being productive.” But productivity and creativity aren't mutually exclusive, he points out; exploring and expressing creativity are not only productive, but a step toward a more dignified work culture.

"In drawing a lot of these portraits over the last year, I realized I wasn't just trying to build others up, but I was trying to build myself up," he says. "I was telling myself I intrinsically had value, which I didn't realize was happening at first."

With a heavy emphasis on bold colors, nostalgic warmth and simplicity, Murray’s illustrations capture the creative energy in each of his subjects, expressed by vibrant details and ideas extending out of their heads.
click to enlarge Michelle Rocqet, by Joe Murray. - AUBERON DESIGN
Michelle Rocqet, by Joe Murray.
Auberon Design
Last year, he produced a collection called Colorado Musicians, Pet Portraits and Quarantine Cartoons; his latest collection, What Lives Within, features portraits of local artists. When he illustrates musicians such as Schama Noel, Joseph Lamar and Michelle Rocqet, he uses their lyrics as the blueprint for the details he incorporates into each portrait. The results have attracted a lot of attention on social media.


As his platform grew, Murray used his degree in social welfare and justice to help build a network of artistic mutual aid. Setting up Auberon Design in 2020, Murray sold his art to raise money for COVID relief emergency funds; he's since expanded to other causes. In July 2020, following the protests over the murder of George Floyd, he partnered with KT Langley Photography to raise money for the Colorado Freedom Fund, which pays bail and makes bond for those who can't afford it. When the Texas abortion law passed in September, he focused on the Lilith Fund, a nonprofit that helps support women who lack access to abortion and reproductive services.

“Most of the art I make, I’m also trying to support another person or organization,” Murray says, explaining that by supporting other artists, he hopes to grow a community that thrives off mutual support and encourages others to tap into their creativity.
click to enlarge Schama Noel, by Joe Murray. - AUBERON DESIGN
Schama Noel, by Joe Murray.
Auberon Design
Murray's main technique focuses on digital illustrations, but he’s also painting canvases, creating murals and doing woodwork; he eventually wants to break into the public art sector.

"The plan right now is to figure out how to get a steady income in and commissions," says Murray, “but I don't want to make art that just looks cool. Ultimately, I want to be a part of the community, and art is one of the greatest ways to do that."

Catch Auberon Design at Live Easy Tattoo, 3923 Tennyson Street, from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, November 5, during the First Friday art walk in the Tennyson Street Cultural District. Select purchases will directly support each featured musician.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Hilal is an alumni of Metropolitan State University of Denver with a degree in political science. Along with Westword, she's written for Denver Life Magazine and 303 Magazine.
Contact: Hilal Bahcetepe