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john murray

Selected Works

All rights reserved, no part of this publication maybe reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, electronic, photocopying, or other means without the prior permission of the copyright holders. © The Artist and Whatiftheworld 2013 John Murray Whatiftheworld / Gallery #1 ARGYLE street  Woodstock Cape Town South Africa 7925

Printed in South Africa Cover: Detail of Evaporate, 2014, Oil on canvas, 140 × 120 cm, at Whatiftheworld / Gallery




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John Murray is a South African painter living and working in Cape Town South Africa. Finding significance in the contrasting states between certainty and uncertainty, the tangible and the imperceptible, playfulness and seriousness Murray moves between representational and non-representational forms. Working in oil on canvas as well as in collage and bricolage, the images used in his figurative compositions are often interpretations of found objects and photographs. Some of these images have specific cultural, historical or political significance, while others are trivia collected from the artist’s everyday surroundings. These composite images or compositions prompt viewer specific responses and associations, with the juxtaposition of images acting as triggers or catalysts for meaning. More recently Murray’s work has leaned towards abstraction, not in its purest sense but rendered in a way that still hints at representational forms beneath the surface. These works, originally inspired by the different colors and hues that accumulated on the artists mixing pallets whist working; have evolved in to an ongoing series of paintings that allude structures that are simultaneously in the process of forming or perhaps disintegrating.




ABSTRACTS Ecstatic Entropy

Using the term entropy as a starting point to frame this body of work, Murray has created a series of paintings that exist in a state of tension between order and chaos. The paintings, whilst attempting representational gestures toward landscapes, structures or symbols, ultimately fail in their task. Functioning in a liminal space, the paintings fall indecisively between organic form, geometric shapes and allusions toward landscape and architecture. en路tro路 py (ntr-p) n. pl. en路tro路pies 1. Symbol S For a closed thermodynamic system, a quantitative measure of the amount of thermal energy not available to do work. 2. A measure of the disorder or randomness in a closed system. 3. A measure of the loss of information in a transmitted message. 4. The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity. 5. Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.


Chaoskampf, 2013 Oil on canvas, 151 × 130 cm

Chaoskampf 2, 2013 Oil on canvas, 110 × 90 cm



Untitled, 2013 Oil on canvas, 151 × 130 cm


No Mans Land, 2013 Acrylic and paper on aluminium, 200 Ă— 100 cm


Fault Line, 2013 Acrylic and oil on canvas, 151 × 130 cm

Fault Line (Detail), 2013 Acrylic and oil on canvas, 151 × 130 cm

Underworld, 2013 Oil on canvas, 151 × 130 cm

Underworld (Detail), 2013 Oil on canvas, 151 × 130 cm

Fracture, 2013 Oil on canvas, 80 × 70 cm

Bad Rhythm, 2013 Oil on canvas, 80 × 71 cm

Untitled, 2013 Oil on canvas, 80 × 60 cm


House of Cards, 2013 Oil on canvas, 151 × 130 cm

Rise and Fall, 2013 Oil on canvas, 131 × 80 cm



Untitled, 2013 Oil on canvas, 61 × 45 cm



Untitled, 2013 Oil on canvas, 62 × 45 cm



Y, 2013 Oil on canvas, 82 × 64 cm


An interview with John Murray by Michael Smith

John Murray, whose works can often seem like a babble of stimuli, paints indecision, failure and information glut as if they were physical things. His works take on abstraction, and thereby some of painting’s heavyweight thinkers, with disarming humour and lightness. Yet they explore not so much a crisis of representational art, or a jostling between representation and abstraction, as a state of parity between modes of painting, the fertile moment when the hierarchy flattens out and the artist can respond to the needs of the work outside of stylistic strictures. Michael Smith: Failure is so interesting, isn’t it? I mean, in the context of all we do to puff ourselves out, to compete and scrabble for a living, the admission of failure can be that moment of release we paradoxically crave. The works in your 2013 exhibition ‘Ecstatic Entropy’ were positioned as ‘fai[ling] in their task… [in] attempting representational gestures toward landscapes, structures or symbols…’ How liberating was it to use the notion of failure to frame a conceptual project? John Murray: Yes, it was quite liberating. I have in the past often struggled to define my specific interest or what I was communicating. I saw that as failure and even stopped producing art for a few years. It used to be quite debilitating, but now I have chosen to embrace it as something potentially interesting. I have made peace with the fact that my paintings are conceptually elusive and rather enjoy functioning in a sort of liminal space. I am deliberately pushing aspects such as fragmentation, randomness and even disorientation in these paintings. MS: Of course, the works themselves don’t fail as aesthetic objects: they are animated, complex and very rewarding. How do you navigate that in context of your stated concerns? I mean, is it okay to make a non-failing painting about failure? JM: Thanks; I am glad you perceive them as ‘non-failing’, although of course not everyone would agree! It is a difficult question, but I guess I would argue that I am not deliberately trying to make a ‘bad’ painting to illustrate failure. These paintings function in a space of disorientation, where they fall short of being fully representational of something concrete.


MS: The entropy, the endgame in which painting so often finds itself, seems expressed with so much fervour in this body of work. One senses a jangle of visual languages in works like Top Down and House of Cards, all competing for primacy; yet their organising principle is ‘the tendency for all matter and energy to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity’, as your statement for the show says. JM: Yes, there is a lot of pushing and shoving going on! I feel that if I make the paintings very busy, if I keep filling them up with fragments, textures and competing colours, they may eventually topple over into a state of calmness. I feel I have not achieved that yet, but that is what I am aiming for. I like your analogy that there seems to be a competition for primacy. The visual language of advertising and product packaging somehow influences these works. I always find myself attracted to (and a bit repulsed by) the bright pinks and yellows when walking down supermarket aisles. Information-overload is an underlying theme in these works. MS: I want to pick up on this idea information-overload. I think one of the ways painting can respond well to the information flow that engulfs us is by slowing things down, enabling contemplation rather than just consumption. Does this idea filter into the way you deal with overload? JM: I spend a lot of time just staring at my paintings, trying to figure them out. I see a certain value in the slow process often required to produce a painting or a body of work. For me it is almost like a performance piece (produced in the solitary confines of the studio) that counters our fast way of living. I think one of the enigmas of certain artworks is the ability to transcend time and trends. MS: I always feel that artists who don’t acknowledge some sort of weight of history are foolish or deluded. As a young writer I would often play this game of dropping in obvious references that artists were looking at, hoping to catch them out on some level. Your work, by contrast, feels completely different: consciously immersed in a dialogue with visual culture of all sorts. How does the material of art’s history manifest for you when you’re in the studio?


JM: I began my studies at the University of Stellenbosch with Graphic Design and changed to Fine Arts after two years. That was in the beginning of the nineties just on the cusp of political change. Deconstruction was the buzzword and everywhere artists and students were juxtaposing things to break down old ideas or create new ways of looking. It was a time of ‘cutting and pasting’. As a student I always enjoyed looking at the early photomontage artists such as Hannah Höch, John Heartfield and the designs of the Russian Constructivists.I have always responded to art that has a strong graphic quality. It is quite interesting that although this body of work is abstract, I have never really felt a great affinity with abstract painting. I have always been more influenced by figurative painters. This body of work developed through sheer frustration with my own figurative representation. I felt I needed to interact with the canvas on a more subconscious level, free from the restrictions of representation. MS: What sort of process do you undergo: I would imagine the gestural areas and allusions to landscape and architecture are done in the initial stages, while the graphic shards of colour are floated over the top? Or how would you describe it? JM: I have a ‘shoot from the hip’ approach when I start. I dive into the canvas with loose brush strokes. I start building onto this with more controlled shapes. At some stage I will break the picture down again by ‘washing’ over it with a thin layer of paint. This creates depth and I start again with the layering, reacting to the residual marks and textures from before. It is a process of action and reaction. I heard [Cape Town-based sculptor and printmaker] Paul Edmunds mention that he creates a problem in his work and then likes to find ways to solve it. I can relate to that approach, but not in his meticulous way, of course. MS: So do you use masking tape to mask off some areas that you want to keep while working on other areas that need to go further? JM: Mostly I use the masking tape to create a ‘positive’ shape that will be painted on top of a previous layer. I like the very rigid, defined lines that the masking tape creates. My drawing teacher used to say that there is no such thing as a defined line and that everything is actually a blur!


MS: In works like Y, Rise and Fall and Bad Rhythm, there is even a suggestion that the coloured graphic elements are trying to form letters: some new, mutated language starts to emerge, and the works resemble posters with bold yet malfunctioning messages. JM: As a graphic design student I always enjoyed the hand lettering projects. I think something of that discipline stayed with me and you are correct that parts of the paintings suggest lettering or typefaces. I like the idea of these paintings simulating the textural build-up often found on city walls and billboards caused by the multiple layering of posters. There is a certain beauty in the small fragments and leftovers of previous posters that were torn down. MS: In Untitled, there is a strong suggestion of a portrait; previous works and shows have foregrounded your interest in painting people in rather more traditional manners. How does your previous history sit with this current mode of production? JM: Yes, well spotted. It was actually an unfinished painting over which I worked. I think there are similarities in the application of paint and also my drawing mediums of charcoal and ink. The process of layering and ‘scraping’ is always there. I do have different modes of production as you call it. At the moment I am preoccupied with a more abstract approach to painting. This does not mean I have abandoned figurative work. I have always liked Daniel Richter’s seamless ability to move between figurative and abstract modes of painting. At some stage I would like to see if I am able to integrate these different approaches to painting.




ABSTRACTS Selected Works



Untitled, 2014 Acrylic and oil on canvas, 130 × 80 cm



Bounce, 2014 Oil on canvas, 140 × 120 cm

Evaporate, 2014 Oil on canvas, 140 × 120 cm



Small Collapse, 2014 Oil on canvas, 80 × 60 cm



Sinkhole, 2014 Oil on canvas, 140 × 120 cm


Mountain 1, 2012 Oil on canvas, 100 × 90 cm

Mountain 2, 2012 Oil on canvas, 100 × 90 cm


Untitled, 2012 Oil on canvas, 76 x 56 cm



Untitled, 2012 Oil on canvas, 90 x 90 cm

Untitled (Detail), 2012 Oil on canvas, 90 x 90 cm




Patterns with meaning, 2012 Oil on canvas, 130 x 120 cm



Objects of Unimportance, 2012 Oil on canvas, 80 x 61 cm



Jan, 2011 Oil on canvas, 110 x 95 cm



Maria, 2011 Oil on canvas, 110 x 95 cm



The Tragic Poet (Dyptich), 2010 Charcoal and Black Ink, 119 x 99 cm

The Tragic Poet (Dyptich), 2010 Charcoal and Black Ink, 119 x 99 cm


The Good Life, 2010 Charcoal and Black Ink, 119 x 99 cm



Yesterday's Tomorrow 1, 2010 Charcoal and Black Ink, 119 x 99 cm

Yesterday's Tomorrow 2, 2010 Charcoal and Black Ink, 119 x 99 cm





Untitled, 2012 Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm

Untitled, 2012 Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm



Untitled, 2012 Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm

Untitled, 2012 Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm


Untitled, 2012 Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm

Curriculum Vitae SELECTED EXHIBITIONS: 2013 Group exhibition curated by Julia Meintjes, Cavalli Gallery, Somerset West Work exhibited by Whatiftheworld/ Gallery for JHB Art Fair Ecstatic Entropy, Solo Exhibition, Whatiftheworld/ Gallery, Cape Town Stellenbosch Revisited, Drawing Group Exhibition, Sasol Museum, Stellenbosch. The Loom of the Land, Stevenson, JHB 2012 Making Faces
Exploring contemporary practice through Portraiture Group Exhibition,Whatiftheworld/ Gallery, Cape Town Work exhibited by Whatiftheworld/ Gallery for JHB Art Fair Flotsam&Jetsam, Solo exhibition at Artspace Gallery, JHB Tjorts!/Cheers!,Group exhibition, Association for Visual Arts, Cape Town 2011
 Thinking around: mapping sculpture, Group exhibition, Tokara Gallery Art on Paper – selection of South African art on paper, Casa Labia Gallery, Cape Town. Thami Mnyele Foundation- 20 years, Group exhibition, CBK Zuidoost, Amsterdam, Holland Ik ben een Afrikander, Group exhibition, Artspace, Johannesburg Contemporary South African Painters, Group Exhibition, Kalk Bay Modern, Cape Town 2010 
 99c, Drawing group exhibitions at Platform on 18th, Pretoria
 Rose Korber Art Salon, Cape Town 2009
 Spaza Sketsboek, Drawing group exhibitions at Platform on 18th, Pretoria


2006 - 2008 
 Teaching drawing at the University of Stellenbosch for the Visual Communication and Design course and Postgraduate Mphil Illustration course 2005 
 Art @ Work: A decade and more of the Sasol art collection, Oudtshoorn Arts Festival
 Africa for Africans, Solo Exhibition, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town
 South African Art 1840-Now, Group Exhibition, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town 2004
 South African Art 1850-Now, Group Exhibition, Michael Stevenson
 40 years: Artists and designers from the University of Stellenbosch, Sasol Art Museum, Stellenbosch
 Uniformed, Solo Exhibition, Michael Stevenson
 Identity, Group Exhibition of South African Art, Scheveningen, Fortis Circus Theatre, Holland 2003 
 Teken, Group Exhibition, Art on Paper, Johannesburg
 Work shown at Rose Korber Art Salon, Cape Town
 Contact Zones, Group Exhibition, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town 2002 
 Black & White, Solo Exhibition, AVA, Cape Town
 Absa l’Atelier competition finals, Johannesburg
 Meanwhile…., Solo Exhibition, Art. B, Bellville 
 Work shown at Rose Korber Art Salon, Cape Town White Horse Group Exhibition, Oudtshoorn Arts Festival


 Undercover, Solo Exhibition, Bell-Roberts, Cape Town
 Waver Group Exhibition, Oudtshoorn Arts Festival
 Group Exhibition of South African work, Mac 21 Art Fair, Marbella, Spain
 Exhibition of miniature paintings, Art Association of Bellville
Studio 2000 
 Solo exhibition, AVA, Cape Town
 Plastic Bag Awareness Campaign, Collaborative Installation with Liza Grobler, Kirstenbosch
 Exhibited and co-curated Emergency Group Exhibition, Bell-Roberts
Gallery, Cape Town Container, Rust-en Vrede Gallery, Cape Town 1999 
 Canvas, Arts Association of Bellville, Cape Town 1998 
 Kunsdinge, US Gallery, Stellenbosch
University Staff Exhibition, Association for Visual Arts (AVA), Cape Town
 Unplugged 3, Market Theatre Gallery, Johannesburg EDUCATION: BA (FA), 1996, University of Stellenbosch


RESIDENCIES: 2003 Thami Mnyele Residency, Amsterdam 2002 Triangle International Workshop, New York Thupelo Artists’ Workshop, Cape Town COLLECTIONS: UCT Collection Sasol Collection Hollard Collection Spier Collection Nandos Collection Thami Mnyele Collection PRESS: Blackman, Matthew: ‘Taylor unpicks the jungle: a review of Mumbo Jumbo’, Artthrob (online) Smith, Michael: ‘In a sea of possibilities’, Art South Africa, vol. 9, issue 1, p 90 – 93 Jacobs, Katherine: ArtBio, Artthob (online) Haw, Penny: ‘Reading between the lines’, Business Day (Art), March 2009, p 12 Keylock, Miles: ‘Cool way to be cool’, Mail & Guardian, 7 August 2009, p 8 Khoury, Lorraine: ‘Reading things the right way’, Art South Africa, vol. 7, issue 4, p 44 – 45 Minnaar, Melvyn: ‘Allow Michael Taylor to open your mind’, Cape Times, 18 August 2009, p 10 Minnaar, Melvyn: ‘Proof that small can be smart’, Cape Times, 23 November 2006 Van Eeden, Adrienne: ‘Immediate (or not so immediate) nonsense’, Artthrob (online)



Whatiftheworld / Gallery #1 ARGYLE street  Woodstock Cape Town South Africa 7925

John Murray Catalogue