Greg Murr’s Political Wild Things
Greg Murr’s (NAP #101) dogs hunt and play in a world of human-made and human-valued accoutrements. Strands of pearls, ladders, flowers, and ribbons weave playfully through the animals’ fantastical worlds, yet the pull of the paintings always remains the intensity of the animals and their very animal instinct.
Greg Murr | Capital, 2011, acrylic polymer, graphite on canvas, 63 x 67 inches.
There is something eerie, timeless, and familiar in these works. I was reminded of Amy Ross’s series of anthropomorphic wolves. Something about throwing such totally instinctual animals like wolves or dogs into human and earthly roles is jarring and enticing – and beautiful too. And of course, there is always the more conceptual messages behind the work, as Murr describes the politics that inspired this series. - Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor
Ellen Caldwell: Your series of paintings recently included in NAP #100 feature dogs amidst bourgeois lavishness – excessive and tangled strands of pearls, long stem white roses etc. What inspired this series?
Greg Murr: Ha--election season! Certainly it was in part spurred by having followed the general election campaigns four years ago. One luxury of our particular democracy is that as citizens we so often get to voice our opinions publicly, and generally without repercussions. As I read or listened every day to media reports of voter preferences, I couldn't help but think about the global impact of the leader we were about to elect. And quite frankly, I was bewildered by so many interviewees whose decision came down to something of a gut instinct or compatibility on an issue with very little bearing on the pressing global concerns facing the world today. So politics and social critique do have their place in this work, but these themes really surface as a byproduct of something that I think is both more discrete and more substantial.
EC: That is great–can you discuss the ties to your animal subjects a bit more?
GM: What fascinates me beneath all this is the more sociological or even anthropological matter of how we establish for ourselves a sense of personal security, and how we derive fulfillment as an animal species. I'm not interested in who we are as much as how and what we are, including the extraordinary nature of our very circumstance as thriving, cognizant beings in an incredibly particular habitat. For all their critical edge then, these simple pictures of dogs operating as a proxy humanity are also a sort of celebration.
EC: I love that imagery. Your works are so highly detailed, yet so delicate and soft too that it is hard to tell they are acrylic without looking to the captions. Has acrylic been your medium of choice?
GM: Over the years, I've worked in any number of media with regard to different projects, and only recently began to use acrylic paint as a medium for what I want to achieve in the studio. Working in successive layers of paint, graphite and transparent polymer, permits me to carry ideas forward, efficiently adding and subtracting as necessary, without compromising a relatively pristine end result.
EC: And do you use real dogs as your models?
GM: I do use dogs as models, though I don't typically work directly from life. I take a lot of photos of various dogs at play in parks, and then work from those to establish often-digitally-based compositions. When I began this project, I was drawn visually and conceptually to dogs with their noses to the ground, and specifically from a canine vantage point. I wanted to capture an animal essence and an aura of instinct rather than suggest the downward-looking perspective of a pet snapshot.
My ideas have grown since then, and when I take pictures now, I often find new behavioral tendencies or pictorial elements that lend themselves well to the project's evolving direction—as in the underlying ambiguity of the painting, Germinal. In this picture, we see dominance and submission, yet it hopefully remains unclear whether the wrestling dogs are combative or playful. White, cut flowers are scattered about; are these the results of aggressive activity, an overturned vase just outside our field of vision? Or is this a performance between two creatures, flowers of approving spectators tossed into the arena of spectacle, so to speak? My intention is to leave each image oblique and open-ended, so that we can then bring our own experiences and impressions to actively interpret what we see.
EC: It is a really interesting interplay of luxury goods traditionally for the upper leisure class versus animal instinct and nature's survival. Looking ahead to future shows, will you stay with this theme?
GM: I won't say what direction the work will take pictorially in the months to come—four years ago, if you'd told me I'd now be spending hours and hours drawing highly rendered pictures of dogs, I'd never have believed you! But I definitely want to look for new ways to explore our self-awareness in the context of our physical reality, including how we understand our surroundings and make meaning in the world.
Placed among the indulgences and accoutrements of an affluent society, the dogs may be curious, indifferent or even antagonistic to what they encounter. But without anthropomorphic association, they generally don't have the use for these items that afford us such great psychological and social security—and to which we assign such aesthetic value. Is it possible for us to fulfill our own needs without such tools?
Greg Murr’s work is in a group exhibition Not the Usual Politics now through October 31st at Rose Contemporary, Portland, Maine. Other venues and galleries that show Murr’s work include Perimeter Gallery, Turner Carroll Gallery, and White Concepts. He is currently being featuring in New American Paintings #101.
Ellen Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer