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.
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.
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.
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.