Artist of the Month

December 2019

James William Murray

For December's Artist of the Month we've selected artist James William Murray, who is based in Brighton. We talk to him about his artistic practice, influences and upcoming projects. 

Tell us a bit about yourself and your practice, how would you describe the work that you do?

I am an artist with a studio practice based in Brighton UK. My work explores questions of touch, trace, materiality, and spatial dynamics between bodies, art-objects, and architectures. I also teach part time and run a project space. When I am not working I enjoy running on the South Downs, cooking, live music, and especially this time of year, sitting in the sauna.  

James William Murray

James William Murray, Untitled (Bob & James), 2018

Your work refers to a history of minimalism, which is often seen as formal, masculine and lacking in emotional charge. At the same time, the way you title works refers very directly to desire, emotions and haptic experience - can you speak more about this voice and its relationship to minimalism? 

There's an overlap between my own artistic concerns and those of modernist minimalism in terms of form, space, and material. Though equally there are a number of ways in which my work departs from minimalism, and seeks to subvert its language. This is tension I enjoy. For my most recent body of work I have been painting directly onto canvas stretcher bars and arranging them to form geometric structures. These austere forms are softened, however, by pieces of clothing (my own and others), which bind the stretcher bars together. This introduces a certain domesticity and sensuality, which is at odds with traditional masculinities and the detached objectivity often associated with minimalism. Though I believe minimalism is often unfairly lumped in with Greenbergian late modernism, which was famously hostile towards subjectivities. Minimalism was conceived as a shift away from previous modern principles and hierarchies, towards new experiential and material concerns. And this was in the context of 1960’s and 70’s American counterculture – an era of radical self-discovery! We live in an age in which identity politics are now a mainstream concern. I am particularly interested in exploring the role minimalist aesthetics can play in furthering discussions around issues of gender and sexuality in the 21st C.

James William Murray

James William Murray, Untitled, 2019

I'm interested in your previous experience as a photographer and how that relates to your sculptural practice. You've previously mentioned the 'mediated touch' and 'indexical trace' as ways to think about this influence - can you expand on this?

I did a BA degree in visual art and performance and made several early works that were essentially performances for the camera. I later went on to study photography on the MA programme at the University of Brighton in 2013, which was led at the time by the critic and photography historian Joanna Lowry. Lowry instilled in me an enduring love of photographic theory, which continues to inform my process. Ideas of touch, trace, surface, loss, materiality and desire – all of which stem from the photographic – continue to inform my practice, which subsequently expanded into painting and sculpture. Whilst I still make photographs as a means to document my process, I am currently less compelled by photographs as artworks in and of themselves. Rather, I approach photography as a methodological framework, which can be applied to other media. 

Which artists working at the moment do you admire?

My favourite living artist is Roni Horn. My favourite deceased artist is the great Robert Morris. 

James William Murray

James William Murray, Touched i, 2017

You also co-founded the studio and project space Niagara Falls Projects. Can you tell us more about this?

Niagara Falls Projects is a project space in Brighton founded up by my colleague Martin Seeds and me. We set up NFP as we were fed up with having to travel to London and beyond to see exhibitions we wanted to see. We have produced nine projects since we began at the end of 2016 with a programme from around April - October. We are now closed for winter and have plenty of time to regroup and plan for next year. It works well as a seasonal thing as it allows time for sustained focus on our own respective practices. 

What do you have coming up?

I am currently showing a new works in a group show at RULE Gallery in Denver Colorado, which is on until December 21. I am looking forward to visiting Denver in early December to meet the gallery team and explore the city, which I’ve never been to before. I am working towards some shows for next year as well as planning for NFP, but announce these in due course. 

James William Murray

James William Murray, Untitled (Agamemnon & Argynnus), 2018

More information

James William Murray on Axisweb >