Art. Community. Friendship. Three things that should thrive in every local creative scene, and yet it is not always easy to find - especially authentically. When we came across The Kings Lens and Friends, located in Newport, Rhode Island, we instantly felt its honest approach to showcasing artists’ work and the genuine support from the community. We knew this was no ordinary gallery.
The news that August 31st would be the last day TKLAF would open its doors was bittersweet, but moreso a moment to celebrate. It was a decision made with the best interests of the gallery. The ability to know the right time to move forward, avoid stagnation and pivot so that one can continue to grow as a creator is a choice we greatly respect from TKLAF’s founder, Patrick Murphy. With the closing fast approaching, we hit the road north to the Ocean State to sit down with Patrick to reflect on his journey with The Kings Lens and Friends.
Born Rival: The Kings Lens and Friends has become an established gallery in Newport, but how did you get into photography in the first place?
Patrick Murphy: I got into photography about 10 years ago and started shooting with a GoPro and then moved up to a DSLR. I just really kind of fell in love with it when I was kind of lost in life. I was always super into music and I was going to school for radio broadcasting so I thought I was going to do something like that. But photography just kind of found me at the right time and I started getting really into it. And then people started asking to buy prints off me right when Instagram was kind of becoming a thing and I was just like, wow, I could make a living off this.
BR: What was the path of ultimately opening TKLAF?
PM: The first print I ever did I just gave away for free, I posted it and I was like, ‘Hey, I just did this print who wants it? I'm going to give it away.’ My friend who was a block over quickly said she’d take it. I ended up skating it down to her house where she suggested I do an art show at her cousin's burger shack where they were doing these art and beer pop-up nights. I thought that'd be kind of cool so I went on to do that. At the time, pop-ups were really becoming a thing. A big moment was when I saw Drake do an OVOXO pop-up in New York City. I thought it was so smart. It's one day, so you have to get it while it's there. And if you don't, it's gone or everything's sold out. I ended up doing about 12 pop-ups in a year and a half after that and I sold out at almost all of them.
I didn't think I would ever get into the gallery world, and even when I was doing pop-ups, I was basically just throwing really good parties with art on the walls. A full-time gallery thing seemed intimidating, but a friend's mom was a real estate agent and had a retail space listing that she said could be turned into a gallery. I was about 22 at the time so I had no idea how I would ever do that. It was a really good deal, and because I was bartending I knew I could work three shifts and pay the rent for the space plus the fact it was only a summer lease. I was like, alright I'll try it, I'll figure it out. I don't think I knew what it was going to become when I said that. It has taken me on this wild ride and here I am six years later.
BR: It sounds like you really grew organically and had taken an authentic route by starting with pop-ups and then transitioning to a more permanent space, but opening a gallery still has to be daunting, no?
PM: When I was growing up I had two really good qualities; one was that I could throw a really good party. The second was that I could go up to any lunch table in the cafeteria no matter what group it was, whether they were sports kids, chess club or drama - whatever it was, I could just talk to anybody. I was really good at connecting people. So I was like, how am I going to get people in the gallery all the time to see just my work? I knew I wasn’t there yet, where I could make it sustainable just off my own work. But at the time I had all these talented friends who were doing their own artistic endeavors and doing so many different things. And I was like, well, what if I became this pop-up mecca and gave the option to other people to do pop-ups? I already knew all the people that I wanted to do it with; I had 12 friends and I had 12 weeks. One artist for each week throughout the summer.
I already had the moniker, the Kings Lens, which comes from a nickname my mom gave me. She called me ‘King of the Beach’ when I was little and I kind of always ran with the ‘King’ thing after that. Even with having 'The Kings Lens' already, I kept asking myself what I was going to call this place? Then one day I was just like “The Kings Lens…. and Friends” and it just rolled off my tongue and I was like, oh, that sounds pretty cool!
BR: You spoke to seeing people buy your work or simply getting people in the same room together. What fulfillment or joy has running the gallery brought you over the years?
PM: There are a lot of different things that have brought me joy from the gallery but mostly the community that I've built there. I don't even want to say that I built it, but rather just found a vessel for the community, because the community in Newport is so strong already. Being able to bring all those people together and always getting to see the connections further down the road has been awesome. For example, my friend Cam is a musician and he had his album cover done by one of the artists he met through my shop, and he has a tattoo from the first artist who ever did a show there. And then the girl featured on a song on that album was a girl he also met through my shop. That was the biggest manifestation of that place, just all the connections that it brings. Being able to be the place to connect good people and talented people and to see how those webs grow - that's definitely one of the most rewarding parts of it.
"Photography is all about looking for the light. And I think in a lot of different ways, that's what photography did for me - it helped me stay away from those dark moments I was getting myself in with my mental health and other difficult parts of my life and it was a way to shift my perspective, to look for something different and just get up and get out there"
- Patrick Murphy
BR: As you said, it's the connection of community and artists, but what is your personal connection to photography? It found you during a difficult time, so it must have a special meaning in your life.
PM: I think it's changed over the years, as all things do, but when I first got into it I think I was just in such a dark place that I really needed a shift in my perspective. Photography is all about looking for the light. And I think in a lot of different ways, that's what photography did for me - it helped me stay away from those dark moments I was getting myself in with my mental health and other difficult parts of my life and it was a way to shift my perspective, look for something different and just get up and get out there. For the first three years or so I was into photography, I spent every day shooting.
There was a year where I never missed a sunrise because I was so into it. Overall in photography, it's been a better way to connect to the ocean for me. Surf and water photography are definitely my specialty and the place I feel happiest. I had always been obsessed with the ocean as a kid growing up on the island, so being able to connect to the ocean in a totally different way and create an art form from it and capture the art form of the ocean and water has been such a special avenue for me within photography.
BR: Given the gallery, you obviously print a lot of your work but you've mentioned you really enjoy printing your film photos specifically as of late. What has the transition been like from the early days shooting on a GoPro to now shooting on film?
PM: Film has been super nice for me. Shooting surf digitally with high shutter rates, sometimes I'm shooting 2000, 3000 photos in a day, has made it a little over saturated and I feel like I miss some moments, even though I captured it. I might have missed it just because there's so many that the true moment gets lost. I live a very fast paced life so film has been a great way to just slow down a bit and pay attention more and not jump on the trigger as much. Film has been really good for me to just slow down and appreciate life a little bit more. Over the last two years I've just been shooting a lot of film. I just got a couple rolls back, which is always nice. It's so refreshing and it gives a, you know, a little bit of a surprise.
BR: What is it like when you see your work printed, whether it's for yourself or if it’s purchased and someone is going to hang it on their wall. How does your work in tangible form bring you joy? Do you find that people respond differently to it when it's printed versus on a screen?
PM: Printing is the best. We're so used to seeing our four inch screens full of these images and it just doesn't do it justice. And for the most part, I like to print all of my stuff pretty large. It allows you to really take in the details and just enjoy that experience a little bit more. It's also more solidified that way because we otherwise put stuff on a hard drive and then you lose that in the back of your mind for years, but with something physically printed you know you're going get to see it every time you walk in that hallway or that special place in your house where it's placed. It really gives it its own life.
BR: With the closing approaching, what’s in store for the last couple shows and can you explain the sentiment behind the last show?
PM: The last show is a two part show. The first half is called "Friends Are Forever" which is owed to all the people that have been in my shop. I’ve invited anyone who's ever done a show there to do this show with me as a way to celebrate the whole genesis of that place, what it's meant to us all and to go out with the people I came in with. By bringing them all together, hopefully it's just a giant art swap [laughs]. To be able to see those connections blossom again will be special. Some people had shows that were six years ago, some were a week ago. To get them in a room to reconnect and hopefully have those lead to more connections and stories and art and everything is what makes the shop beautiful and just keeps the legacy alive.
The second half is ‘The End Of My Beginning’ which for the first time in my life I'm going to take over the whole shop for only my work. I’ve never done that. It will be a bit of a documentation of the last 10 years of my photographic journey and an opportunity for me to show the progression in my journey as a photographer and how my style has developed and what it's changed from, where it is now and where it's heading. It’s an opportunity to show people the story of myself and the end of my beginning, because I feel like I'm just transitioning into a new chapter and it's going to be different. While in some ways I feel like I just started, this is a new segue to a different part of my life that I'm really excited for.
BR: What does the closing mean for you?
PM: I'll probably get emotional when it happens but I haven't felt it yet and I feel more excitement for what's going to come after. I felt like I reached my limit on what I could do there and I knew I had to change something in order to keep progressing. It's the end of an era in one way and a start of another one in a different way. I know it'll be a lot to go through when it happens, but I feel like if I didn't leave it I would’ve and it [the shop] would’ve just stayed still. I don't see this as the end of what I started there. I feel like I just needed to take some steps to get out of the box. I felt like I was in a box and I couldn't grow anymore. I'm just finding a bigger box that I can spread some roots to just keep growing and growing. So I'm excited for the next stage of it.
August 12th, 2022 | Reggie Onorati
August 19th, 2022 | Vessna Scheff
August 26th | Friends Are Forever / The End Of My Beginning