Catherine Murray’s Letter to Mrs. Ramsay

“The Edge of Things”, 2009. Bronze, wood, lead, and paint.

I finally made it over to Catherine Murray’s Letter to Mrs. Ramsay at the Johnson City Area Arts Council Gallery. In case you haven’t been there, it’s a nice little space that’s easily accessible downtown (in the same building as Main Street Pizza). I haven’t been to many exhibitions there because, for whatever reason, it’s a bit off my radar. I don’t often know what’s in there. The only four times I’ve been to the gallery it was because a friend or acquaintance was involved with an exhibition. I suspect this gallery might have the issue multiple venues in this area experience as well — lack of exposure.

“Artemis”, 2012 + “Demeter”, 1997 + “Aphrodite”, 2012.

Perhaps most recognized as a sculptor, Murray actually began her artistic studies as a painter. I’m not exactly sure why or when she moved over to sculpture as her primary medium, but encaustic seems like a good bridge between the two. The medium lends itself well to being layered, built up, and carved into. The surface texture feels a bit mysterious, but very physical. Perhaps it’s the shifting opacity, the way the surface looks tranquil yet sticky, physically and psychically sensitive. The affectation feels mutual between object and viewer.

“Erebus”, 2012. Encaustic and mica on wood panel.

“Blossom”, 2012. Alabaster and cast iron.

It usually annoys me when people make artwork and title it a word that is heavy with meaning like Artemis, Demeter, etc. because it creates issues for both the artist and the viewer. If the artist making the work attempts to describe this word in an iconic, broadly applicable way, they tend to fail miserably. The task is too hard. The work suffers. If the work is a conscious attempt to spin a “twist” on the common perception of the word, it tends to be trite. Successful attempts tend to be more personal, less self-conscious. Or humorous.

While looking at Murray’s mixed media paintings, I got the impression that each work was a meditation on something in particular, but not weighed down by it. Each one feels like a conversation that she had with herself, with her memories yet it was really readable to a viewer. When looking at Aphrodite, for example, moments in the painting struck me as being revealing without force, such as the small deer in an obscured forest, the seashell, and the vulvic green shape slightly off center.

“Aether”, 2012. Encaustic and gold leaf on wood panel.

“Aphrodite”, 2012. Encaustic and paper on wood panel.

The work feels very much like the beginning of a new phase in Murray’s career, which is always an exciting thing to witness. At least for me. I remember being in my art classes and seeing that a fellow student made some great leap, and even where there were problems with his or her piece, the energy and potential was there to enable more growth and experimentation. But let’s not over think it. Momentum is momentum, and now is a good time for that.

“Honeybee”, 2012. Encaustic, cloth, and paper on wood panel.

“Queen Bee”, 1993 + “Honeybee”, 2012.

“Sanibel”, 2012 + “Hercules”, 1993 + “Red Deer”, 2012.


Two Way Dream: Paintings by Mira Gerard

Since Mira Gerard was my painting professor at ETSU and we have remained in touch, I’m pretty well acquainted with her paintings. I’ve seen them online and in person, whether it’s her studio, a gallery, or the floor of her living room. It has been an on-going pleasure to see her work continue to develop, and to see it in a variety of places. Recently, I was able to see a grouping of her recent paintings titled Two Way Dream in the Panorama Gallery of William King Museum.

Something I’ve noticed before is that after seeing them digitally, there’s this expectation that the paintings will be larger than they are in life. They seem like they must be large to contain so much energy, so much action and nuance. The painting above, which has temporarily lost its Title, is only 10″ x 15″. Many others are about the same size, give or take a few inches. The intensity of desire, both forceful and lush, slow-burning and flashing, comes across in the digital images, but truly shines when looked upon directly.

“Object Ophelia 5″, 2011. Oil on linen. 16″ x 12”.

So, as you can imagine, I was disappointed in the lighting of the Panorama Gallery. It was dark in that space, with only some cold overhead lights, and although it didn’t prevent me from enjoying the paintings, it certainly reduced their splendor. But this is an issue the museum is aware of already. Proper lighting installation is very expensive. Still, it’s a bit aggravating. I didn’t spend as much time with the paintings as I normally would, although to be fair, that’s in part because there was a reception going on. Two, actually.

Mira posing for Marie in front of “River for Forgetting” (see image below).

“River of Forgetting”, 2012. Oil on linen. 30″ x 58″.

And you know how it is at receptions, especially when two coincide. It’s a bit noisy with chatter, people stand in front of artwork to talk, and there’s concern about wine and whether there are any of those delicious brownies left. God help us if there’s more than three cheese options. While I was trying to see Mira’s painting on the back wall, which I hadn’t seen before, there were about three people who didn’t seem to grasp what I was doing. After a few minutes of me standing awkwardly near them, they shifted to the left. But then more people moved in, attempting to access the dessert side of the table. Basically, receptions are not really the time to see the work — unless you get there early or are just kind of “previewing” it.

Panorama Gallery, William King Museum.

However, I did overhear people commenting on Mira’s paintings, and pointing out this or that favourite. People seemed drawn to the sensual, dripping, vivid, at times muddy, physicality of the paint. The paintings that are pretty don’t have the quality of being “only pretty”, as so often pretty images do. I get a sense when I am looking at these figures that they are moving, but toward what end is often unclear. Isolated in their own little worlds yet still looked upon, they appear almost hypnotized and caught. But not waiting. Not anymore.

It was really great to see another grouping of her paintings, even with the issues present, because I’m always curious about how interpretations and experiences change according to context. And with Mira’s paintings especially, undulation is invited.

“Object Ophelia 2″, 2011. Oil on linen. 16″ x 12”.

Former students, Marie and Amanda, posing in front of rainbow paintings with moustaches from the Dali reception downstairs.

“Sunburst and Snowblind”, 2012. Oil on linen. 24″ x 30″.

Feeling silly at the Dali reception with Mira and her husband William.

PROJEXx + Too Much Awesome

Below is a pictorial interview with a house on West Walnut Street in Johnson City, commonly known as PROJEXx Studio & Gallery. The Too Much Awesome show was still up, featuring work by a few artists from Knoxville. Curl Up & Dye — Justin and Liz — were also preparing for band practice.

FF: Oct 5th

I didn’t get many pictures at all of First Friday because I was occupied at Venus & Fur…




There was a lot of great stuff going on, though, and I recommend trying to see those exhibitions before they come down. I definitely will, especially now that I’m not trying to finish 32 paintings in 2 weeks (read: madwoman).

If anyone has some photos or videos of FF they’d like to share, I’ll add’em to the post. For now, to relieve some of my discomfort about a post revolving around myself, I’m posting a stolen photo taken by Brian Paddock of Joybang playing at The Mecca Lounge downtown. Daddy Don’t of Knoxville played, too. It was a lot of fun. I love that place, those people.