RUFFMERCY, a.k.a. Russ Murphy, is a UK-based director and visual artist. He’s someone we’ve long admired over here at ROVE for his distinctive style—a tasty cocktail of hand-drawn, frame-by-frame animation, often blended with live-action and mixed media footage.
His rap sheet of collaborators is dizzying, including artists such as J-Dilla, Nas, DJ Shadow, Run The Jewels, Thom Yorke, and many more.
Enjoy our convo!
ROVE: Hey Russ, thanks so much for taking the time to do this with us. Shall we dive right in?
RUFF MERCY: Yeah sure thing.
ROVE: How did you get started creating artwork?
RUFF MERCY: Like most – as a kid. At school I realised that this was what I wanted to do and also realised I wasn’t great at much else.
ROVE: Was it something that carried straight from school to a career? Or did your professional life start elsewhere?
RUFF MERCY: Yeah, pretty much. After school I sought out design courses. I wanted to be a graphic designer. I ended up falling into animation work at college where there was access to an old vhs stop motion camera and I quite liked the process of making films. From there I was lucky to land a job at MTV EUROPE in London. From there I just worked hard and made a career out of it.
ROVE: Do you still have any of your early childhood artwork? Do you ever look back on it?
RUFF MERCY: Not much..my mum and dad have a picture of a cat I drew when I was around 16. Super tight, realistic and boring. My parents love it. It’s on the wall at their house. I remember copying lots of cartoon characters when I was really young. Bugs bunny etc. I also remember making a cartoon series called ‘101’ things to do with dynamite. I probably only did 5 of the 101. Lol. I remember drawing a picture of a giraffe with dynamite stuck up its ass.
RUFF MERCY: But nah. My parents weren’t sentimental about keeping drawings it seems. Wish they had though. Would have been cool to see now.
ROVE: It seems like you pioneered the style of drawing animated illustrations on top of live action footage which has become wildly popular in the music video/commercial world. How did that come about?
RUFF MERCY: Around 2011 the director David Helman and The artist/mc ‘BLU’ approached me about helping them with a video where they wanted to try drawing over it with scribbles. They had a ref gif and asked me if I could do something similar. I bought a Wacom and set about doing it. Learning on the job. I loved the looseness and freedom of it so wanted to keep doing it.
ROVE: And that led to great success in the music video world. The rundown of the artists you’ve worked with is amazing. J-Dilla, Nas, DJ Shadow, Run The Jewels, the list goes on.. Any favorite collaborators on that list?
RUFF MERCY: Yeah. I have been blessed to work with some amazing people and folk whose music I love. When I did the Dilla x Nas x MADLIB one I was feeling pretty happy about how things were turning out.
ROVE: Also noticing that more recently, we’re seeing you operate in the physical space with your spray paint portraits. When bouncing between the digital and physical realms what draws you to one over another?
RUFF MERCY: Oh yeah. I have been having fun with that and plan to do more with that. Bouncing between depends on what jobs I have on and how much time I have for the job. In November I took a month to pursue my own work and take time to explore new techniques. Was a lot of fun and I feel like I got alot out of it but right now I’m working on a commercial which is quite tight so I have had to pause that approach for a bit. Can’t wait to get back to that though and push it some more. I always find if I can give myself a bit of me time then I usually find a new technique which crosses over into commercial work, music videos and ads.
ROVE: It seems like you’re constantly pushing your style yet it remains consistent with itself. Are you ever faced with creative blocks? If so, how do you push through them?
RUFF MERCY: Thanks man. Ah.. yeah. I do have creative blocks. Especially when I feel like I’m repeating myself. I Get a bit of imposter syndrome now and again and that I find creates a creative block but then have a talk with myself and tell myself ‘just do it’ basically. I mainly get through creative blocks by listening to some music, experimenting and watching a good film etc. that energy you get from listening, seeing, watching great work. I try to feed that back into my work. Music does that the most I think. I also think creative blocks usually come from over thinking things.. putting pressure on yourself. It’s only you stopping you I guess. If I’m working on something not inspiring me then I usually feel like I lost my edge.. so I try to stop what I’m doing and fuck about for an hour or 2 to make something for myself and remind myself I still enjoy doing this.
ROVE: Any music and films you’ve been digging lately?
RUFF MERCY: I have been listening to lots of older stuff mainly at the minute. Old soul, folk, 70’s rock.. I never thought I’d enjoy Spotify’s random song selection but I sometimes just let it play and discovered a bunch of good stuff that way. More current stuff I’m digging is that guy REGGIE. He only has a handful of songs but I have them on loop. Tyler the Creator is a big inspiration in all round creativity. I enjoy seeing him shine. Films wise.. Liquorice Pizza was the last film I saw which has some great moments.
ROVE: We talked about you taking personal time to experiment and how that usually yields new results. Do you have any thoughts as to how you might push your style further in the future?
RUFF MERCY: I’m currently trying to push more into doing original artwork. So paintings and screen prints. Right now I’m hoping to make an experimental short film which I’ll try and incorporate more traditional drawing rather than just using the Wacom. More analog methods I think. I’m not sure how it works with you but I sometimes work on a project and discover something new that I don’t get to fully try out on that project but then aim to keep pushing it in others – I have a few of those Im looking to explore more.
ROVE: Wow. That’s exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing the short.
RUFF MERCY: Early days. I’m teaming up with a French film company for something so it’s in the works but early days. I’m excited to do tho.
ROVE: Okay last couple questions that are somewhat unrelated to things…
RUFF MERCY: Ok sure.
ROVE: Go-to cocktail?
ROVE: My man. What’s the gin you’re using?
RUFF MERCY: I’m not fussy.. Lol
ROVE: Do you believe in aliens?
RUFF MERCY: I reckon so.. I wish they looked like they do in the films but boringly they are probably just amoeba looking blobs. Universe is too big not to have something else out there right.
ROVE: Russ, thanks again so much for your time. This has been great.
RUFF MERCY: Thanks for putting this together. Been fun. Have a good one.