News Article Details

New Haven artist with autism steps into success with custom-painted shoes

New Haven Register - 8/10/2018

Aug. 10--NEW HAVEN -- A young man on the autism spectrum who has been painting since junior high school has found a perfect fit: painting on shoes.

"My art is getting noticed overseas and in other countries," said Chapel Haven graduate John Murphy, 26.

Murphy is technically correct, because his artwork walks.

"It's one way to get your art noticed," Murphy said.

His first shoe piece -- Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night" was painted on a pair of Tom's brand canvas shoes for his support service worker, Amanda Altieri, who was going to Amsterdam and wanted a custom pair of shoes when visiting the Vincent Van Gogh Museum.

Altieri, who texted Murphy pictures of her Starry Night shoes near the museum sign, said she got all kinds of compliments from the international set.

"I think I was the only person in the museum with personalized shoes inspired by Vincent Van Gogh," she said.

Word got around and before Murphy knew it, he had another order from Stephanie Berberich, UARTS Chapel Haven Program manager, who had a portrait of her Australian Shepherd, Hank, painted on a pair of shoes.

"I've gotten several referrals for orders from people seeing them," Berberich said. "Dogs are my passion, so with John's help I was able to have them merged into a beautiful, wearable, piece of art."

Murphy, who is high functioning on the autism spectrum, grew up in North Haven, attended Foundation School in Orange, Foundation High School in Milford, and later, the award-winning, nationally renowned REACH Program at Chapel Haven, a school that teaches independence to young adults on the autism spectrum and with other disabilities.

Altieri said Murphy has been living independently for six years in a condo in New Haven but still receives support services from Chapel Haven.

When Murphy isn't working at IKEA, he's usually painting or in the community looking for inspiration for his paintings -- whether its on a shoe or traditional canvas.

Murphy said he always loved to draw growing up, but started painting in middle school after visiting museums, where he fell in love with works by the great artists, including Van Gogh and Claude Monet.

"I developed a need for painting," Murphy said.

For many years, he's been painting on canvas, spray painting, and creating digital graphics, including one he's proud of with a waterfall that to him, "symbolizes hope and inspiration."

Every year, he draws a holiday-themed postcard -- and sells paintings there as well. He's been studying art for many years at Chapel Haven and Creative Arts Workshop.

"He's got a great eye," Altieri said of Murphy.

While he's continuing to take orders for shoes, Murphy also hopes to start painting on other items, including canvas bags, lampshades.

For shoe painting, he uses acrylic paint, then seals them with a spray.

Shoes have some challenges because of the curves and flimsy areas he's learned how to stabilize, Murphy said. He also figures out how to fit an image on a smaller-than-usual space.

He is currently working on a pair of Ked's for Altieri that feature crabs, shells and a starfish, from a Lilly Pulitzer design called "Sailor's Valentine."

"If I have picture, I can do anything," Murphy said.

Murphy is always thinking artwork.

"In my spare time, I'm looking for more art ideas," he said. "I get my inspiration when I'm out and about."

Murphy recently added to his idea repertoire during a family trip to Dublin to celebrate his dad's retirement. He's got the scenery, countryside, old style Irish houses with the straw roofs in his head and feels he could paint them on shoes too, Murphy said.

Anyone who wants to order a pair of John Murphy originals can contact Altieri at: AAltieri@chapelhaven.org. Customers provide the shoes and Murphy will paint them for $50.

Murphy said he's hoping the demand for his shoes will grow as they're seen walking about.

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(c)2018 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)

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