James William Murray’s Work Brings Depth To Simplicity

James William Murray (b.1988) is a young British artist engaged with various creative practices from painting and photography to sculptures and large scale installations. Murray’s work is closely associated with modern minimalistic aesthetics and subtle experimentations of material, colour and form.

Creating paintings with an adaptive sensibility, the artist composes either monochromatic or mixed color fields that are executed in a rich and atmospheric way. In his artistry, Murray involves more mediums to highlight his vision; besides painting, he also develops his minimalistic style with sculptures and other abstract installations. These demonstrate a fundamental part in his artistic impulse, infusing a strong sense of elegance with forthright interest in the physicality of his paintings. Inspired by minimal formalism and classicism, Murray successfully presents a more visceral language in his work. Focusing on points at which concept and creative techniques operate symbiotically, Murray manages to communicate deeper meanings through a symbolic, yet simple manner. Investing important time into studio experimentation, the artist analyses the potential values of his materials and concentrates on the opportunities of his mediums before he finally creates his works. Unifying figurative representation with abstraction, the artist pays attention to each piece’s independent identity.

James William Murray, They/Them/Their/Theirs, Exhibition View, Towner Gallery, 2019, Galvanised Steel

Words: Yannis Kostarias

Murray seems to work within a more earthy range of colours—showcasing a preference for silver, grey or gold tones. The artist explores the variations and the tonality of natural pigments and unaltered hues of materials to convey a solid and unpretentious atmosphere. The artist’s minimalistic orientation is not related to pale or bright hues, but has to do with the practical side of his vision and technique. The engagement with this colour field brings up more realistic dimensions into his work, which manages to deliver more humble messages to the viewer. Furthermore, his minimalistic body of work is down-to-earth —exploiting the idea of spatiality while denying hard abstractions without meaning. Τhe spatial play derives naturally to the artist especially when it comes to his painting practice.

His works are invariably contexualised by architecture. These sophisticated calculations are evident as the artist seeks to balance form, line and colour at a perfect level. For instance, Untitled (Agamemnon & Argynnus i & ii) (2018) is a skillfully polished graphite on marble artwork, placed in mild steel frames, representing three states of its material: elegance, sharpness and tranquility. This diptych formula demonstrates an interplay between grey and silver tones that embody Murray’s ability to underline depth and simplicity. These admirable associations function as a path for Murray’s work to practically construct harmonious visualizations.

James William Murray, Untitled (Agamemnon & Argynnus) i & ii diptych, 2018, graphite on carraca Marble slabs in steel frame. 142 x 61 x 4 cm

James William Murray (b. 1988), lives & works in Brighton UK. Murray is an artist, curator, and educator. He received an MA in photography from the University of Brighton in 2015 and has exhibited in the UK and internationally. His work is in the collection of the Hellenic Centre For Photography and private collections throughout Europe. In 2017 Murray co-founded the studio and project space Niagara Falls Projects in Brighton UK. In 2018 he was awarded the Sussex Open Commission to produce a new large-scale work. In 2019 he was selected for an artist residency at Towner Gallery Eastbourne UK. His work is represented by Stephane Simoens Contemporary Fine Art in Knokke-Heist, Belgium.

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

A full day in the studio is 08:30 to 16:00. I tend to work in bursts and am fairly task oriented. In between making, whilst waiting for things to dry, set, or settle I read, skip, and do email. I have a standing desk and workbench and I am on my feet all day. I get tired, physically and mentally, so I remain upright, I keep moving and drink lots of strong black coffee. At 12:00 I have a sandwich take a walk around the neighbourhood. I listen to music, usually artists I know very well. This week I’ve been listening to the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu. I work on several pieces concurrently as I find this is most conducive to creating a coherent body of work. I usually have an idea of what I want to make in terms of scale, form, and a selection of materials. I assemble stretcher bars, prepare surfaces, stretch different types of linen, canvas, and other fabrics. I then decide if I will use the support in a traditional way, or develop it into something else. I experiment with materials, studying how they interact and what becomes activated when placed in proximity with one another. I have made a lot of work using graphite, which I buff into various surfaces with my hands. It is my go-to material, my ‘grey’, if you will… It is such a versatile and beautiful and timeless material. I photograph my work throughout its production. It is good to have a record of its development as well as images for my social media. Sometimes these images become works in and of themselves. I have a keen interest in minimalism and classicism for their singular and inextricable relationships to the body, controversial masculinities, and architectural space. I have found the meeting of austere minimal and classical formalism to be both productive and challenging. I originally came from a photography background where I developed a long-standing interest in the concept of medium – how both technical application and theoretical praxis from one might inform another. Most of my works are developed at points of intersection between media. For example, I am currently developing a new body of work, which has involved binding and painting stretcher bars, resulting in works that are most readily identifiable as sculpture rather than painting… I find there is invariably a disconnect between the way in which an art-object is imagined, desired and planned, and material reality of resulting work. Things do not quite measure up, material behaves in unexpected ways, human error factors in. It is in the pursuit of idealised and ultimately unattainable forms that I discover new possibilities. This for me is the beauty of artistic process, and what drives the practice forward.

How would you define your work in few words (ideally in 3 words)?

Simple, sensual, seductive.

James William Murray, Studio Portrait, 2019

It must be a very creative and productive period for you. Tell us which are your current art projects that you have been involved with?

I just finished my first artist residency at Towner Gallery in Eastbourne UK. I made new experimental installation-based work and led two workshops; one on abstract drawing and another on phenomenological writing in relation to art-objects. I also gave a public talk about my recent work. Overall it was a great learning experience, which is what I think a residency should be. Alongside my studio practice I co-run the artist-led project space Niagara Falls Projects in Brighton UK. We recently opened our eighth project with the Slovenian London-based artist Jure Kastelic. I think it is quite possibly our best show yet.

Can you name any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

Last year I was in a two person exhibition with the Belgian artist Philip Van Isacker at Stephane Simoens Contemporary Fine Art in Belgium. I feel Philip, Stephane, and I worked very well together and was probably the best exhibition I’ve been involved with. We had several discussions about the problematic aspects of figurative representation of human forms, and how abstraction can serve as an antidote to this. Philip’s work, like mine, often contains a strong sense of a figure and human touch, which is somehow obscured. It was very inspiring to work closely with this eminent artist, who has been developing his unique critical model for decades.

Creating a new painting can be a solitary process. If this applies to you, when you concentrate on a new artwork does it affect your social life at all?

Maybe not so much specific works, but the ongoing process certainly does. For a couple of years when I was doing an MA and trying to get my practice off the ground, my work came before everything else, which inevitably came at a cost… These days I try to have a more holistic approach. I’ve come to see the process of developing my creative practice, and that of nurturing intimate relationships, as my life’s work – a vocation that provides ongoing opportunities for material intimacy. I love my work, thankfully.

How do you know when a painting is finished?

When it commands the space around it.

James William Murray, Untitled (Bob & James), 2018, polished graphite on brass panels in steel frame, 205 x 205 x 6 cm

What about the place where you work? What your studio space like, and how does it affect your process?

I’ve been at my studio for three years. I try to keep it organised and fairly clean. I need a space like this in order to see and think clearly. It is essentially a workshop unit with an adjoining garage and office space. It has large north facing windows and a skylight, and uninsulated roof so in the summer time it can get unbearably hot and over winter bitterly cold. The light however is fantastic all year around. It is situated in a residential area of the city with several neighbouring workshops, garages, and studios. My neighbours are a mix of artists, trades people, and older folk tuning classic cars and tinkering around. I like it here, it’s a good community and the rent is cheap.

Which exhibition did you visit last?

Last week I saw a show by the British sculptor Rebecca Warren at Morena Di Luna in Hove (the town adjoining Brighton that together form the City of Brighton & Hove). The gallery is on the ground floor of a regency period building directly overlooking the sea. It is the second gallery space of Maureen Paley, who also has one in East London. I love the contrast between the regency architecture and the work she shows. I’ve enjoyed every exhibition I’ve seen there. Another very good gallery 650mAh opened in Brighton last year in the back of a vape shop. I think this is evident of the way in which galleries are shifting away from traditional models. It is no longer essential to be in a capital city and people are being more resourceful and playful in how and where they operate. In October a new centre for contemporary arts (Brighton CCA) is launching at the University of Brighton. This will provide a much needed focal point for artistic activity within the city.

What do you hope audiences will take from your work?

Beauty and pleasure are important to me and I believe art can be a healthy form of escapism, for both myself and my audience. My goal is to create conditions conducive to meaningful aesthetic experiences. I aim to produce seductive and desirable objects that increase the viewers awareness of their corporeality and embodied space. If I succeed in drawing the viewer in, there is then scope to open up questions and debate around the work’s broader theoretical, art-historical, and socio-political context – positioning oneself in relation to art-objects, ideas, and others is to assert a political position. This however is a secondary concern and I want viewers to experience the work on their own terms. It is important to me that my works can be appreciated simply for how they appear, as objects in space, on a sensorial, emotional, and material basis.

James William Murray, They/Them/Their/Theirs, Exhibition View, Towner Gallery, 2019, Galvanised Steel

Are you a morning person or a night owl?

I am most certainly a morning person. By 20:00 I like to be on the sofa with a glass of whiskey.

Is the glass half empty or half full?

Half full, but I find the goal posts are always shifting in terms of what I want to achieve and sometimes I have to remind myself to relax and just enjoy the process of developing artistically and professionally, instead of projecting myself forward or comparing myself to others.

What are your plans for the near future?

I recently moved into an Edwardian property that required total renovation. I really enjoyed this work but I am looking forward to more quality studio time. I am currently working on a publication which I am planning to publish in early 2020. I am curating a halloween themed group show in October at Niagara Falls Projects. I think this will be a lot of fun! I have some exhibitions in the pipeline for 2020 but I won’t mention them until they are confirmed.

James William Murray, Untitled (James), 2019, graphite on linen, beaten brass, 60 x 124 x 8 cm
James William Murray, Untitled (James), 2019, graphite on linen, beaten brass, 60 x 124 x 8 cm
James William Murray, Untitled, 2019, graphite on stretcher bars and cotton jersey, 8 x 40 x 4 cm

James William Murray, Untitled (Bobby & River), 2018, graphite on marine ply panels in oak frame with copper tape, 80 x 80 x 4 cm

James William Murray, Untitled, 2019, graphite on stretcher bars and t-shirt hems.both 16 x 40 x 4 cm

© Images courtesy of Stephane Simoens Contemporary Fine Art and Studio James William Murray


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