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For mixed-media painter Crystal Murley, life imitates art.

Cancer cells are irregularly shaped, obscure, disorganized, and they grow out of control.

They are also abstract, like Crystal Murley’s mixed-media creations. Her upcoming glass series is inspired by images of these deadly organisms under a microscope. “Something so awful can be beautiful, too,” Murley says. “When I saw the cells on a slide, they were stunning.”

Though she makes abstract art, Murley says every piece she creates is based on life experiences.

Murley’s grandmother died at 84 from kidney cancer in June 2016. In the four months preceding her death, Murley made daily trips from Houston to her grandmother’s home in Cypress to look after her for up to 15 hours at a time. “The past few years have been life-changing,” Murley says. “Taking care of my grandmother gave me the momentum to keep doing what I have always wanted to do. I keep pushing forward.”

Murley was interested in art as soon as she could pick up something to write with. As a child, she used pens, pencils, and paint on paper to create her artwork. She now uses watercolors, acrylics, oils, thread and latex on boards, canvas, and glass to create pieces ranging from 4-by-4-foot paintings to customized belt buckles.

The artist is currently pursuing a master’s degree in fine art at Houston Baptist University. Her end goal is to teach college-level art classes.

In 2006, Murley graduated from the University of Houston with a bachelor’s degree in painting. She started bartending in 2001 to put herself through undergraduate school, and she currently works at F Bar two nights a week to fund her art supplies and studio. “A lot of people know me as just a bartender,” Murley says. “They’re always surprised when they find out that I’m an artist.”

Although she considers herself introverted and reclusive, Murley has made her share of friends. Regular customers have followed her to various bars over the years because they enjoy her drinks.

Murley began showcasing and selling her
artwork in 2006. Once or twice a year, she hosts open studios at her Crystal Murley Art gallery, where she displays her work and the work of other artists at what she calls “big art parties” for her friends.

All of Murley’s events have benefited LGBTQ nonprofits, including the Rainbow Foundation, the Diana Foundation, Wonka Soiree, and more—with up to 20 percent of her commission income and some of her art going to the charities. “I believe in donating. It is something that I feel strongly about,” Murley says. “I’m glad that I can use my art to give back and pay it forward.” —Lourdes Zavaleta 

Favorite Local Female Actress

Tamarie Cooper
Finalists: Holland Vavra, Pamela Vogel, Teresa Zimmermann

Favorite Local Female Fine Artist

Crystal Murley (tie)
Kiki Neumann (tie)
Finalists: Nancy Adams, Stephanie Gonzalez

Favorite Local Male Actor

Kyle Sturdivant
Finalists: Austin Abernathy, Nathan Cruz, Mark Ivy

Favorite Local Male Fine Artist

Wood Fancher (tie)
Ryan Fugate (tie)
Finalists: J. Antonio Farfan, Jumper Maybach, John Palmer

Favorite Houston Museum

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Finalists: Buffalo Soldier’s Museum,  Menil Collection, Holocaust Museum Houston, Houston Museum of Natural Science

Best Local Equity Theater

Stages Repertory Theatre
Finalists: Alley Theatre, The Catastrophic Theatre, Obsidian Art Space, Rec Room

Best Performing Arts Company

Alley Theatre
Finalists: Houston Grand Opera, Stages Repertory Theatre, Theatre Under The Stars

Best Art Gallery/Place to Buy Artwork

Archway Gallery
Finalists: Elder Street Artist Lofts, Space Montrose, John Palmer Art Gallery & Studio, Jumper Maybach Fine Art

Best Community Dance Company

Houston Ballet
Finalists: Pilot Dance Project,  The T.R.U.T.H. Project

Best Regional Equity Theatre Company

Alley Theatre
Finalist: Theatre Under The Stars

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Lourdes Zavaleta

Lourdes Zavaleta recently graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in journalism. She is a staff writer for OutSmart magazine.

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