J.B. MURRAY AND HIS ART

In his early seventies, J.B. Murray (1908 – 1988), a quiet African-American man from rural Georgia who could neither write nor read, suddenly began to write, paint, and draw flowing yet often erratic abstractions. Believing that he had received a vision from God, Murray suddenly began to create art. Murray believed that the Holy Spirit was moving his hand and that God had a message for him to deliver to the world. The abstraction of Murray’s compositions distinguishes them from work by other visionary self-taught artists whose figurative paintings express their spirituality. Murray created ghostly figures with transfixed eyes and long, vertical bodies that converge toward the center of a painting of brightly colored abstraction. To Murray these elongated shapes were “the people what is lying, them is the people what is living like God don’t exist.” He often repeated the words, “Give me a louder word up,” as he looked through a jar of well water at his colorful daubs of paint, erratic dots, and his script hidden in between larger shapes, as people from all over the country visited him in Mitchell, Georgia. To him the work was “the language of the Holy Spirit direct from God.”
Within seven years after Murray began his first marks on discarded materials, his art was being shown nationally and occasionally internationally, and is now included in various collections in the world. This book shows how a non-literate, retired farm worker in rural Georgia, within ten years after his initiating vision, rose to be an acclaimed artist. This book seeks to unveil the symbols, impetus, and meaning of the work of J.B. Murray, who created his work through the inspiration of his perceptions of eternity. This book explores the influences of the rural South that shaped Murray’s understanding and led to his explosive creativity. This book examines the confluence of African and Christian spiritual understanding that was the driving force behind his art. This book additionally explores what visionary self-taught artists such as Murray have to offer as artists and speculates upon the implications for acceptance of such artists within the world of art and beyond.
Murray shared the message of salvation through his figures, expressed his veneration for the Word of God through his script, and counseled people in his home through the guidance of the Holy Spirit as he gazed through a jar of water. His paintings are the manifest heralds of redemptive praise, jeremiads postulating demise by way of his numerous haunting figures that stare out from polymorphous abstractions and script that gives the instructions of salvation, while the Holy Spirit inspires the words of advice Murray gives to his visitors. This book demonstrates how Murray’s southern evangelical view of the world not only gave him a reason to create as he followed his “call”, but deeply influenced the form, components, and the ritual connected to his art.

Murray Gallery

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