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Featured: Artist John Murray Gets Abstract Momentum


‘UNDO 9’, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 89,5cm. The artwork is on exhibition at a Nando’s in the UK.


Artist John Murray has been painting abstracts for the last 10 years but has only recently started showing them. They’ve been a big hit. Two of his abstracts have been interpreted into large-scale murals and more shall follow. We catch up with him about what his portrait and abstract work have in common, his process of “action and reaction” and about being restless and constantly thinking of different ways to paint.


What is your creative process when creating one of your abstract pieces? Do you plan your work first and use a grid system and measuring tools to achieve all those straight lines, or is it more of an organic process?


My process is rather organic. To a large extent I’m guided by the painting itself. There is a lot of chance involved in the process. I sit and stare at the painting for a long time to try and figure out where I want to go with it. Often I find myself in a dead end and will paint over the existing painting and then use the residue to build a new surface. I use a lot of masking tape to create rigid lines.


When you stand in front of a blank canvas and begin one of your abstract works, what is going through your mind and being?


Early on in the painting my approach is spontaneous. From here I follow a process of “action and reaction” where I respond to the surface with various shapes, textures and colours. I think underlying to my work is the idea of the fragment. Many of the abstracts allude to structures that are simultaneously in the process of shaping or perhaps disintegrating. I like to work in that ambivalent space.




How did your artwork ‘The Wall‘ came to be used at Nando’s Central Kitchen?


Nando’s commissioned five artists to make a painting specifically for consideration for one mural at Central Kitchen. I was fortunate that they eventually chose my painting for the actual mural to be executed by Colossal Media. The painting had to be done on a panel of 1,2m x 4m that was then scaled up for the mural. There is quite a lot of movement in the painting. In the back of my mind I was thinking of the energy and flux that exists in a big city like Joburg.


The execution by Colossal Media measures 15m x 4.5m. Is their rendition an exact replica of your artwork? What was it like watching it being super-sized?


It was fascinating to see how well and quickly they were able to replicate my painting in free hand. They’re highly skilled in what they do. It was interesting to see how they simulated some of the washes through various painting effects. I worked quite spontaneously in my painting while they had to be quite analytical in their approach. I tried to give a hand with the mural, but was completely overwhelmed by the different way of thinking and painting.


Was this the first one of your artworks to be turned into a mural?


This was the first mural of my work. I have since done a mural for Nando’s in Virginia in the USA and there are one or two more in the pipeline. Southern Guild has also initiated an edition of one of my paintings in a large rug made by Paco.


Your portfolio also includes a series of painted portraits. Is it true that portraits you paint are typically of people you know?


Sometimes they’re based on people I know and sometimes they are fictional, but I think there is often something ambivalent about their identity. Recently I’ve discovered an American website of mugshots that are updated daily. Some of my newer portraits are based on these melancholic mugshots.


Blue Shirt Male

Blue Shirt Male 

Dark Cloud

Dark Cloud 

Blue Forehead female

Blue Forehead Female 


Recently you seem to be focused on your abstract work though. Can you trace connections between your portraiture and your abstracts?


I think once I’m busy with and inside a painting my physical approach to painting portraits or abstracts is very similar. Like my abstracts I often paint or wash over the portraits and start again with what is left on the canvas. I think as an artist your subjective environment is influenced by your physical environment. Difference is integral to South Africa and of course it creates vibrancy, but also tension and I do think this has a subliminal influence on my work.


What prompted the shift to abstract?


I’ve been painting abstracts for the last 10 years or so but have only started showing them recently. It was a gradual process of becoming more interested and confident in my approach to them. I think I’m always a bit restless and constantly thinking of different ways to paint. Currently I feel the momentum is with my abstract work.


Which other abstract artists that inspire you?


I’ve actually always been more interested in figurative painters. As a student I looked at people like Lucian Freud, Gerhard Richter, Cheri Samba and Alice Neel. Even now I feel more of an affinity towards figurative painting rather than pure abstract painting. But, I have always admired the work of the Russian Constructivists, which I think has had a visual influence on my work.


Tell us a little about the history of your involvement with Nando’s Art and if it has contributed to your career in any way.


The mural work that Nando’s has initiated has exposed me to a different scale of working and created opportunities to travel. To date they’ve also acquired a few of my works for their collection.


Any forthcoming exhibitions or noteworthy future happenings?


I had a solo show, Undo All, at Whatiftheworld earlier in the year. I’m currently working on commissions and work for the FNB Joburg Art Fair.



‘UNDO 6’, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 120cm.


‘Bounce’, 2014, Oil on Canvas, 140 x 120cm. The artwork is on exhibition at Nando’s Central Kitchen, Johannesburg.


‘Topple’, wool and silk rug, by Paco Pakdoust.


‘Laager’, 2014, 100cm x90cm. The artwork is on exhibition at a Nando’s in the UK.


John Murray Installation

John Murray’s Installation at Nando’s Virginia, USA.


‘UNDO 2’, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 140cm.


‘UNDO 4’, 2014, acrylic and oil on canvas, 150 x 120cm.


‘ Evaporate’, 2014, Oil on Canvas, 140 x 120cm. The artwork is on exhibition at Nando’s Central Kitchen, Johannesburg.

Undo 14

‘Undo 14’, 2014, oil on paper, 50 x 65cm.


‘UNDO 3’, 2014, acrylic and oil on canvas, 140 x 120cm. The artwork is on exhibition at a Nando’s in the UK


‘UNDO 5’, 2014, acrylic and oil on canvas, 140 x 120cm.


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