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Ben Murray If I Needed You

Ben Murray If I Needed You january 99--February January February13, 13,2021 2021

Edited by Staci Boris Photographed by Robert Chase Heishman

This catalogue was published on the occasion of Ben Murray’s third solo exhibition at Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.


Table of Contents Foreword




Installation views






Film Resources



Well, if I needed you Would you come to me Would you come to me And ease my pain? – Townes Van Zandt (1972) 9

Operating between painting’s long history of image-making and the immediate vanishing of images in film, Ben Murray’s If I Needed You, his third solo exhibition with moniquemeloche, is in direct conversation with works created by pioneers of Avant Garde cinematography, such as Rose Lowder, Hollis Frampton, Joseph Cornell, Michael Snow, and Steve McQueen. While inspired by the oeuvres of other artists, this new body of work reflects a deconstructed vantage point of Murray’s life at the time of applying paint to canvas. Drawing its name from the celebrated Townes Van Zandt song, If I Needed You recalls Murray’s complicated relationship with the notion of home, surveying both the solace and suffering that can be experienced when strongly tethered to family histories and responsibilities. Layered marks embedded on both sides of raw unstretched muslin utilize a range of opacities, transparencies, and refractive hues, as if to composite a myriad of enigmatic moments through





paint. his







record while






physical durational

movements in the films from which each work’s brilliance is inspired. Selected for both their formal considerations as well as their structuralism, each experimental film is played on a continual loop in Murray’s studio while he paints, integrating with the artist’s vernacular and embracing the precarious relationship to time and brevity of the present. The ever-changing landscapes of Lowder’s Bouquets charges the works with transformational images that exist somewhere between urban and native ecological systems, echoing Murray’s coexistence between the city and the Indiana Duneland. While Cornell’s Rose Hobart reflects Murray’s personal narrative related to the bonds and obligations of caring for family. The films are active participants, destabilizing each image to create works that acknowledge interminability through the movement of light and form and the transition of imagery. If I Needed You offers a window through which to reexamine and re-experience the different stages of Murray’s life as they relate to the inescapable pull of one’s past










stitched together, Murray’s captivating works bring significance to a collection of stages of development sustained all at once in past-present-future-tense.



The artist in his studio in 2020. 13

BEN MURRAY - AN INTRODUCTION by Kay Rosen I first met Ben through our mutual friend, the late artist Kevin Wolff. After Ben and Jenny Buffington, his partner, moved to Miller Beach in 2017, I got to know them better as neighbors and through our shared input on Kevin’s estate, with Kevin’s husband David Scott. During these years I have been in love with Ben’s work and have been lucky enough to visit his studio from time to time (until COVID that is, when the best we could do was digital images). Yet Ben’s work is so physical, that even through images I feel like I’m in their presence. They pull me into their orbit with their scale, beauty, and energy. As a more conceptual artist, I am always a little in awe of abstract painting and feel a little excluded, as if it were a club I didn’t belong to or a language I didn’t speak fluently, but not in Ben’s case. I am hugely engaged (but still in awe). Maybe it’s partly because one of his sources and inspirations is film, a medium that brings another entire frame of reference to his painting. This connection should be considered when viewing his paintings. Very specific films, Rose Lowder’s Bouquets and Hollis Frampton’s Winter Solstice, for example, not only inspire Ben’s paintings but contribute in a very performative way to them almost like a metronome regulates tempo or an orchestra conductor shapes and shades a work or the way a score lays the template, regulating the tone of his painting process. I have never actually witnessed Ben actively painting while the film loops play in the studio, but maybe I understand. The films are not background, they seem more like active participants, goading and guiding him. He internalizes them until the boundaries between them practically disappear. It’s almost as if they come to share a common gene pool. It is a little bit of a chicken-egg situation: which comes first? The films might inspire Ben’s painting, but he chooses the films in the first place. In writing this I wondered if Ben should become a filmmaker, but I think he is too passionate about the materiality of painting and is involved in a sort of friendly mano a mano with them, more physical I think than a mere dialogue (Ben is tall). Besides, he has found a successful way to combine his two passions into a seamless, coherent whole, with the fast-paced fragmentation of the films driving the paintings, which are really time-based after all. But to me, the paintings can also be viewed and enjoyed completely independently of the films. Each has its own very distinct voice whose vocabulary of color, brush strokes, layering, movement, and composition sharply distinguishes it from the films and from












artistic influences, but to me they all feed through his paintings which stand grandly alone. 14

Installation views












Artist's Statement ‘My interests in film as subject started with Michael Snow’s Wavelength, and an admiration for Maya Deren. The ways she manipulated time and space with editing synched with my own interests in editing different times or memories through layers of paint. I had been creating images from memory around 2013-2016 and shifted to painting films as an extension of that practice. The films gave me a finite duration to give shape to and the marks became detached from any “concrete” images I was attempting to depict. The paintings started incorporating temporality. Initially, I chose films to play in the studio for their structure and formal considerations. As the project moved on, the more I found that I started making personal connections to the films. Hollis Frampton’s Winter Solstice is a portrait of the inner workings of U.S. Steel, and served as a point of reference for the painting Lake I (2020). My father worked for U.S. Steel for most of his life and we see it every time we walk to the lakefront near our home, the same place I have been coming to since I was a kid.’


Lake I, 2020 Acrylic on muslin 77 x 69 in 30

Lake I, 2020 (verso) 31

Murray as a child at the Gary, Indiana dunes 32

Stills from Hollis Frampton’s Winter Solstice, 1974 33

The artist’s own snapshot of the lakefront near his home in Gary, Indiana 34

‘We recently moved from Chicago to the dunes in Gary, Indiana and have become immersed in the landscape. These paintings are a deconstructive reflection of where I am. The titles of the works - Garden, Lake, Flowers, Portrait, Window– are symbolic of my surroundings.

Oddly enough, my first show at Monique’s consisted

of large-scale vernacular paintings created from memories of home. I grew up a few miles away recording songs on a guitar in my Dad’s garage and am now making paintings focused on duration in a converted garage studio nearby with the same impulses. This place has been a checkpoint for me in a lot of different roles at different times over the years, but the ground is relatively unchanged. There is a kind of movement to that figureground relationship that I want to incorporate in the paintings.‘


Garden IV, 2020 Acrylic on muslin 94 x 88 in 36

Stills from Rose Lowder’s Bouquets 1-10, 1994-95 37

Garden II, 2020 Acrylic on muslin 83 x 102 in 38

Snapshot taken by the artist of his home garden 39

Garden I I I, 2020 Acrylic on muslin 84 x 102 in 40

Flowers II, 2020 Acrylic on muslin 31 x 35 in 41

Flowers I, 2020 Acrylic on muslin 24 x 30 in 42

Garden paintings in progress in the studio 43


‘As abstract as the paintings appear, my approach is rooted in representation. There are computer screens running inside the studio for inspiration and the accumulated marks relate to fragments of images in motion. This series consists of acrylic paints on unprimed muslin. Muslin interested me because of its material history as a backdrop, as well as the way the weave holds the mark. I paint in layers embedded into both sides of the muslin unstretched while rotating it on the walls and floor of the studio. I brush, scrape, push, wipe, add, and remove a range of opaque, transparent, reflective, and refractive paints with a range of matte and gloss finishes on the surface. I don’t use any masking. There is no tape, straight edges, or guides. It’s important that I am recording my movements into the surface. Even though there is an element of chance in how the paint reacts, I am in control of what is visible.’


Portrait I, 2020 Acrylic on muslin 61 x 53 in 46

Snapshot taken by Murray looking through the window of his childhood home. 47

Window, 2020 Acrylic on muslin 96 x 84 in 48

Stills from Michael Snow’s Back and Forth, 1969 49

Opening, 2020 Acrylic on muslin 80 x 54 in 50

Stills from Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart, 1936 51

Portrait II, 2020 Acrylic on muslin 62 x 54 in 52

Stills from Carolee Schneeman’s Fuses, 1967 53

Garden I, 2020 Acrylic on muslin 78 x 90 in 54


Ben Murray (American, b. 1977) earned his MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago (2013), and his BFA from Herron School of Art and Design, Indianapolis, IN (2011). He was a 2014 Artist in Residence at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Nebraska and a 2012 MFA Resident at Ox-Bow in Saugatuck, Michigan. He has exhibited at Kaplan A.I.R Exhibitions, curated by John Neff (2013);

Gallery 400 (2013); Bemis Center for

Contemporary Art, Omaha, NE (2015); Cleve Carney Gallery, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL (2018); University of Illinois at Chicago Galleries (2018); and Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago (2016, 2019) Murray is currently Adjunct Assistant Professor, Indiana University Northwest, Gary, IN. Kay Rosen’s investigation into the visual possibilities of language has been her primary focus since 1968, when she traded in the academic study of languages for the study of language-based art through paintings, drawings, murals, prints, collages, and videos. She has been the recipient of awards that include a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (2017) and three National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Grants. Rosen’s paintings are included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago











Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Rosen lives in Gary, Indiana, and New York.

Monique Meloche Gallery is located at 451 N Paulina Street, Chicago, IL 60622 For additional info, visit or email


Film Resources

Stan Brakhage, Eye Myth, 1967, 9 sec Colectivo Los Ingrávidos, Coyolxauqui, 2017, 9:46 min Colectivo Los Ingrávidos, Piedra-de-sol, 2017, 9 min Joseph Cornell, Rose Hobart, 1936, 19 min Hollis Frampton, Winter Solstice, 1974, 33 min Rose Lowder, Bouquets, 1994-95, 11:33 min Steve McQueen, Deadpan, 1997, 4:35 min** Carolee Schneemann, Fuses, 1967, 23 min Jack Smith, Normal Love, 1963, 120 min Michael Snow, Back and Forth, 1969, 52 min Michael Snow, Wavelength, 1967, 45 min

Watch the virtual walkthrough of Ben Murray’s If I Needed You here: (** film resource not available online)


Profile for Monique Meloche Gallery

Ben Murray: If I Needed You  

Digital exhibition catalogue produced on the occasion of artist Ben Murray's third solo exhibition at Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago in Wi...

Ben Murray: If I Needed You  

Digital exhibition catalogue produced on the occasion of artist Ben Murray's third solo exhibition at Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago in Wi...


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