Dan Murphy Q&A

September 13, 2021
Dan Murphy has a runaway success with his art gallery Grapefruit Moon.

“I would always go to antique malls and galleries and to dealers places when on tour so after maybe 10 years of touring I had built up a pretty great network. Mostly would find the good stuff in Los Angeles and New York, but I spent most every day off on the road antiquing. When the gallery site opened in the early 2000s I was still touring and it was just me answering questions and calls, so that was a bad kind of chaos, at least initially.”

You made the decision to start a gallery while you were touring with  Soul Asylum. How did that decision-making process go?

In the 1980s I was a dealer at local antique malls, starting in 1983. I started collecting original pin-up and illustration art in the early 1990s. I would always go to antique malls and galleries and to dealers places when on tour, so after maybe 10 years of touring I had built up a pretty great network. I mostly would find the good stuff in Los Angeles and New York, but I spent most every day off on the road antiquing. When the gallery site opened in the early 2000s, I was still touring and it was just me answering questions and calls, so that was a bad kind of chaos, at least initially.

The name of your gallery is Grapefruit Moon, which is from a Tom Waits song. Did you have any back-up names?

No, that was always the one and only.

You’re back in MN now, and now with a physical location. Do you like running a brick-and-mortar store?

We do not get many visitors because our gallery is by appointment. Our gallery has a photo studio, a large pack and ship station, storage for paintings and other inventory and six computer work stations. That is how a gallery works in this day and age. We don’t have too many local customers which is surprising as St. Paul was home to the two largest calendar companies in the world in the 1900s, Brown & Bigelow and Louis F. Dow.

What was your entree into this niche of art?

I fell in love with pin-up first — Rolf Armstrong, Earl Moran, more of the 1930’s art deco fantasy imagery than the Elvgren 1950’s imagery, which initially looked a little stoic and tired for me.

Are you concerned great illustrators artists like Gils Elvgren are being lost to history?

Several years ago Elvgren paintings were selling for prices routinely in six figures, a few of his paintings brought more than $200,000. Prices have really dropped on original pin-up art, there were few collectors on the top end and most have sadly passed  our moved into other collecting fields. Our business is now centered around our purchase of the estate of the dare I say legendary female Miami area pin-up photographer Bunny Yeager. We bought her vast over 50 years of pin-up and glamour photography life’s work archives about four years ago in Miami and recently moved it all up here to Minnesota. She is best known for the work she did with Bettie Page in 1954.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

I like in the pin-up genre Rolf Armstrong, Henry Clive, Alberto Vargas, Earl Moran and George Petty. I like an illustrator named James Avati, who mostly painted paperback book covers in the 1940s and 50s. I love J.C. Leyendecker, Maxfield Parrish and an obscure artist named Mahlon Blaine. I love some of the pulp illustrators such as Virgil Finlay, Hannes Bok, H.J. Ward and Harold McCauley, they toiled in obscurity. In general illustration was a very competitive field and these guys and women could really paint.

Do you still get out on a treasure hunt on a regular basis?

I just started playing music again and I have been buying old off brand American tube guitar amplifiers from the 1960s. I shop on-line mostly. But yes I enjoy the site Reverb.com very much.

If you could just play shows without the travel, would you perform music again? 

I just finished writing and recording a record over the last 18 months, with a friend Jeff Arundel at his home studio in St. Paul. We are going to release it early next year and play some shows. The project is called The Scarlet Goodbye. I am very proud of it — more important though is that it brought me great joy to write and record and sing and play this music, a perfect pandemic project, as I found myself with nothing but time.

What is next for Grapefruit Moon?

We have enjoyed a few really good years of commerce — just trying to make good buying decisions and maintaining our level of passion and precision. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I really have enjoyed being a gallery owner for two decades that is a good run. We have great employees and customers, I am blessed.