To and Fro

Solo Exhibition
28 July - 24 August 2021

Exhibition Opening: Wednesday 28 July 2021
Exhibition Closure: Tuesday 24 August 2021

WHATIFTHEWORLD is pleased to present To and Fro, John Murray’s fourth solo exhibition with the gallery.


Interview with John Murray: 

1. Please could you list  10 words that you would use to describe  your paintings or process of painting?

Fragmented, division, palimpsest, structure, negative space, borders, fencing, scraping, fluid, organic.

2. Looking at your paintings, one could see how your understanding of space might be influenced by architecture. In particular, I’m always reminded of the architecture of post-independence African modernism, are you influenced by urban spaces? And if so, could you share a specific encounter or space that has had a lasting influence on you.

I think my work originates from an in-between space. I am interested in the idea of hierarchy and especially the ambivalence between order and dis-order. Space, structure, architecture are all underlying influences.

3. Your paintings are composed of fragments and shards which often conjure notions of disaster and wreckage (although, in the same breath, they also create soft balanced compositions).

A while ago we spoke about aerial views of floods or hurricane sites or cities or rubbish dumps, do you think your work is a subconscious response to turmoil? And do you think that in any sense, your work is about putting things “back together”?

Considering the recent upheaval in South Africa (or rather constant upheaval globally), does your practice provide a refuge for you? 

My paintings are accumulations of marks, colour, and fragments that can possibly resemble the aftermath of natural disasters or perhaps the destructive remains documented after the recent looting in the country.

I am interested in textures of deterioration, whether it is man-made or natural.

4. In this bodyof work, ‘Shape (No.1)’ and ‘Shape (No.2)’ resemble masks or shields of some sort. They are magnified and isolated from your more dense montage of shapes. Can you speak a bit about how this shift came about, the “Ah-Ha!” moment, and whether the visual similarity to actual objects like is intentional or symbolic?

I wouldn’t say the paintings are symbolic or necessarily representational, but I think it is natural that, as a viewer, you want to find familiarity or order in abstraction. My process of working is quite organic and for me there is a constant push and pull between presentation and non-presentation in the paintings. I think there has been a shift from the work being only fragmented and frenzied to also reflecting on single “objects”.  In a way, I see them as landscape painting vs still life painting.

5. When do you know that an artwork is finished? How do you stop yourself at the ‘right’ moment, between building up and breaking down?

The moment of completion is instinctive. The painting reaches a point of saturation. I struggle to let a painting go before it has a certain amount of layers in it. Without those layers it lacks depth and vibrancy.

6. What has been the most interesting and joyful part of making this body of work?  

I think joy itself. The realization that it is a privilege to paint and one must do it with joy. My fragment paintings initiated from a place of inner turmoil, but as I get older they actually calm me down!

7. The shapes in the abstract works loosely resemble cogs, gears and different parts of machinery and the presentation as a whole almost reminds me of a factory.

The title ‘To and Fro’ also reminds me of constant movement and work. Is this idea something you thought about while making this body of work? 

Somebody once mentioned that my work reminds them of Futurism with it’s emphasis on dynamism, speed, and restlessness. I guess there is a similarity, even though I have never really fancied Futurism as a style.The title To and Fro points more to my process of painting.

8. The totem of portraits included in the presentation provides a small break from the abstract paintings’ medium and rectangular format which is reminiscent of your previous exhibition ’The Sum of its Parts’. How do the portraits add to the narrative of the presentation? Who are the people in the totem to you ? 

Initially the show was going to be a reflection of my studio space where I often work more figuratively in conjunction with the abstract works. While hanging, most of the figurative works were edited out. I kept the pillar of heads as a small disruption in the show. The heads are non-specific and were montaged together from drawings I have made over the years.

9. Do you have any rituals that you do while you paint (e.g. listening to music or podcasts)?

Yes, I listen to music. I can get very euphoric while painting and listening to music.

I find that podcasts are a great companion when the isolation of the studio gets too much.

10. The smaller grid works resemble objects such as milk cartons or cardboard boxes, what objects do you use as references and what informs your choice? Is this formal or sentimental? 

I have always liked these kinds of domestic objects. I think the concept of the vessel is a very strong metaphor that holds all kinds of primal qualities.

11. The works in this presentation reflect a more gritty or muddy foundation, resembling rusted metal or cardboard, with lucid and varied colour inclusions. What informed the style of these paintings? 

I am always drawn to deterioration and especially how it appears in man-made things. I like the interaction and tension between colours that possibly represent the natural world and the plastic world.

12. What are some of your most used tools in studio?

Brushes, palette knifes, NT cutter, masking tape.


Artist Biography

John Murray is a South African painter living and working in Cape Town South Africa. Finding significance in the contrasting states between the tangible and the imperceptible, playfulness and seriousness, Murray moves between representational and nonrepresentational forms.

Working in oil on canvas as well as in collage and bricolage, Murray’s work has leaned towards abstraction, not in its purest sense but rendered in a way that still hints at representational forms beneath the surface. These works originally inspired by the different colours and hues that accumulated on the artists mixing pallets whist working have evolved in to an ongoing series of paintings that allude structures that are simultaneously in the process of forming or perhaps disintegrating.