James Austin Murray
My work as an artist is about searching and it’s a little like searching in a dark room with a flashlight that will only brighten a few inches in front of it. We artists feel our way along the walls and try to identify the furniture and layout of the place that we find ourselves in. We use the tools we have and each of us arrive with slightly different tools. Each of us learn to build different tools to help us plod on in the dark.
Sometimes the dark is where you find the best surprises. Almost a decade ago, I moved from figurative work to working on small canvases, limiting myself to black oil paint. Forcing this parameter on myself was unpredictably liberating. Over the years I’ve expanded and contracted on my limiting parameters. I spent several years building shaped canvases which were a jumping off point for the paint that followed. Nearly a year and a half ago, I decided to go back to a single shape, the square. I wasn’t sure how far I could take it before I hit a wall and needed to reconsider the next step.
To my surprise, I found this even tighter parameter offered more of the unexpected. Every time I felt myself inching up to that wall, I found a way past it. Like martial arts, there was a type of repetition involved and I knew that if I ever got to the point where I could only repeat myself, I would be done with it. The surprise I am talking about is the increments of improvement in the technique and subject. I gathered more control and became more demanding of the work and more and more of the paintings would get scrapped because they just weren’t as good as I came to expect. In truth, I keep expecting to hit the wall but somehow I keep getting past it.