From teat to cheek
(pencil on paper, frames, glass), 2m x 2m
Doubler’s (view through to From teat to cheek)
(plywood, wood stain, fixings), 2.5m x 2m x 2m
our hands come together, to scratch and itch, the itch that we scratched, then became this
(plywood, paint and fixings), 1m x 1m x 0.25m
Paps n’ Taps
(pencil on paper) 30cm x 20cm
The Rumble of the Deep Deep Beneath
(pen on paper), 30cm x 20cm
Stephen Murray’s work suggestively mixes the abstract and the figurative in order to explore the relationship between reality and fantasy, urge and restraint. He moves fluidly between disciplines and media, between sculpture, drawing, performance, painting, and functions both as a solo artist and collaboratively in order to address the multiplicity of aims derived from his research and practice. Central to his work is the exploration of the mythic in a contemporary setting, and of myth both primal and psychoanalytic.
His development of his work is simultaneously methodical and evolutionary, as he develops upon previous pieces, reworking and reconfiguring drawings, sculptures, woodcuts to further explore and expound his innate beliefs and thought processes while constructing for himself a uniquely complex visual language and iconography. He cites his central reference point as being the edge between the understood and the intuitive, the point of contact. The notion of transfiguration is recurrent in his works as it is in his methodology, and a significant reference lies in Mikhail Bulgakov’s “A Dog’s Heart” in which a dog assumes the mantel of humanity following the implantation of some human testicles and a pituitary gland.
This reworking of the Frankenstein myth, with the signifier and cause of humanity transformed from the brain to the balls reduces man to his basest common denominator, and this exploration of the base in humanity is frequently mirrored in Murray’s practice. He deals with imagery which deliberately undermines more lofty ideals of the human as the cerebral, the intellectual. His view is from some perspectives a cruder one, yet it is in many ways realistic and ageless, presenting an image of man as a creature led by his baws, by primal innate urges largely unchanged and unchangeable by time.
For his New Works Scotland commission he has chosen to transfigure ‘Mother’s Milk’, a blackened drawing of breast-teats and questing baby’s mouth, the breasts expelling a scroll-form on which is written “our hands came together to scratch an itch the itch that we scratched then became this”. The drawing reflects the duality of his work and research- the scroll-form reminiscent of classical relief carving, the signifier of ancient learning and citizenship, while the breasts and baby are represented almost carved into the paper in a frenzy of dark, primal scratches. He is reconstructing this work on a three dimensional scale, pulling apart its constituent parts and expanding them to inhabit the gallery space. The scroll becomes a freestanding wooden sculpture, while the breasts and head are repeatedly reproduced in four framed drawings, flipped horizontally and vertically to display the image from every possible perspective. Juxtaposed with these works are cut-out panels containing the severed images of two column-pole forms, the specifically masculine interacting with the specifically feminine motherhood to present something like a reproductive cycle, a cycle stripped of romance and sentiment to a mythic lore of the teat, the phallus, the baby’s mouth.
The use of cut-out wood panelling is a recurrent theme in Murray’s practice, a method which he has developed melding the sculptural and the two dimensional to transform a space, enveloping it and presenting his imagery in the form of light. His 2005 work “Seek ye ur questing beast” is reminiscent of a Polish woodcut, while the image of conifers incised in one of the roundels suggests a sinister fairytale, the crab-claw hand silhouetted against the light alluding to something primal, threatening, inexplicable. Another roundel blends a kind of heraldic myth with gynaecological alike drawing, a turreted flag-topped castle form whose interior is an oozing system of ducts, tubes flowing into a pair of kidney shaped incisions. This juxtaposition of medieval and scientific iconography occurs frequently in Murray’s work, as he seeks to explore myth both inherent and learned, to trace it back to its source and reconstruct it from its bare components.
The use of ritual and performance is an essential component of many aspects of his practice. 2005’s ‘Cantero’ displayed an object imbued with meaning, decontextualised and stripped of its physical function. The cantero form is similar to that of the pinada, an object created to be destroyed, to channel the physical aggression of the destroyer. Rather than being an object of pure celebration, it is used as a kind of decoy, something on which people can vent their frustrations with one another rather than engaging in a physical fight. As a result the form contains associations of violence, the potential for pure aggressive destruction inherent in its creation. Murray’s conception of its form included the addition of a long, red glossy tongue, lending the work an allusion of anthropomorphism which emphasises the underlying human to human conflict and potential for harm contained within and sublimated through the cantero.
Also underlying Murray’s work is an allusion to familial conflict, to an Oedipal urge and the Saturn myth, urges and ancient ‘truths’ referenced in his choice of title. ‘My father he ate me but still I conquered’ displays a collection of white contorted bone-forms, a severed hand, perhaps the remnants of Saturn’s consumption of his children, the piece both an interaction with ancient myth and with the work of an old master in the form of Goya. The texture and colour of the white forms are reminiscent of the decapitated child in Goya’s work, however Murray has chosen to approach the myth from the other perspective, emphasising the ultimate victory of the son avenging the crimes of the father.
Murray’s work is a complex construction of meaning, form and reference, a rich personal language of allusion and illusion. He borrows and steals from a vast array of influences, from psychoanalysis, ancient myth and contemporary ritual to create his own personal iconography which refuses to be pinned down. He desires interpretation and refuses to dictate his meaning, hinting through title, form, arrangement, yet never quite allowing the viewer the easy option of a solitary purpose.
- Rosamund West