Walking outside his home in Taipei, Canadian-born artist Nat Murray is continuously captivated. He stares out into a mass of visual inspirations: the decaying, old concrete buildings being taken over by tropical plants, the people shoulder to shoulder walking down the street, and the minuscule leftover amount of space that is being devoured by the rising population and development; each are characteristics of his city that play a role in his simply painted pieces.
Murray’s layered paintings are unparalleled to the norm. Creating works of art at a rather small scale, Murray’s most recent exhibition, Business Trip, exists specifically on small canvases, nearly each painting done on a 9”x7” surface. Business Trip, displayed at Lane Meyer Projects in Denver, Colorado, is in fact that: a business trip for art that allows these simple, compact pieces of work to travel with the artist.
Using this intimate canvas size, Murray’s Business Trip draws the viewers closer to the painting, urging those to observe the layers of thick impasto and small details that could normally be looked over with a larger sized painting. With these details, Murray worked to make the finer points of his paintings stand out.
We had the opportunity to chat with the international artist where we talk about his first time in the states since 9/11, inspiration he gathers from the outside world and his latest doodles.
Tell me about your first interaction with art. Were you drawn to the arts at a young age?
I am fortunate to have a family that has always supported my artistic path. I grew up in rural Prince Edward Island, Canada. There weren’t many kids to play with so I spent a lot of time on my own, which I think forced me to use my imagination to find things to do. The first artist I ever knew was my aunt, Moira Dryer. She was an abstract painter in NY in the 80’s and early 90’s but passed away at a young age of cancer. She had a funny, playful, cheeky quality that also showed very subtly in her art.
How has your time in Taiwan affected your art? Do your surroundings influence you?
I have been living in Taiwan since 2008 and Asia since 2002. Taiwan is a good place to hunker down and make work. Going outside is visually intense as it is so crowded and every square-inch is taken up by something. Decaying concrete buildings being devoured by tropical plants next door to glass office towers with neon lights. I have had to teach English in so-called “cram schools” and being in that part of the culture influenced a series of paintings called BuXiBan Life (buxiban means cram school in Mandarin). I painted fictitious cram school campuses cum office spaces populated by hard-eyed teachers, emotionally drained staff, and tired students.
What is the art scene like in your community? Is it supportive? Nonexistent?
There is an arts scene here. Mostly tech-based, but also a few painters. There aren’t a lot of spaces to show in but more now than there used to be. I have had a few shows here, sometimes paying to rent out spaces. I would not say that Taipei is a hot spot for art, but living here allows me more time to paint than I might get if I had to work at a day job in Canada.
How did you become connected with the Lane Meyer Projects in Denver? What was it like traveling here for your exhibition versus experiencing an art show in Taiwan?
Lane Meyer Projects contacted me via Intagram out-of-the-blue last year and started the conversation. It was very surprising. At that time I think I had emailed almost every commercial art gallery in Taipei my work, and had zero replies so it felt great to have made contact with an American gallery.
Being in Denver was my first time to the States since before 9/11 so I felt like a foreigner, yet Denver did remind me a lot of Canada in some ways so it was also very familiar, almost homey feeling. I do feel that my paintings can be read more easily in America than in Asia. I’m kind of a weirdo out here.
Your exhibit at the Lane Meyer Projects consists of work on relatively small canvases. Where does this style originate from? Do you enjoy working with larger canvases when you can?
Yes, when I have the space to work larger I love to but a major determining factor in the sizes of the pieces in Business Trip is that it travels like a business man, all wrapped up in a couple of packages. Also that intimate size draws you in to look closely at the layers and minutiae of the impasto slabs and marks on the surface. I do have bigger works here in Taipei but it would cost a lot to send them over.
Tell me about a day in your studio. Are you gathering inspiration from anywhere in particular? Listening to music?
A successful day usually starts with a bike ride up the hill near my apartment. I get some inspiration from seeing the mix of man-made objects fighting the losing battle against nature and the elements outside on my bike ride. I tend to plan out paintings in my head while I am doing other things. Then I just go in and apply the layers or treatments on whatever paintings are in a dry stage or are ready to be worked on. There are usually 6-10 going but in different stages and states of wetness/dryness. I also like to photograph random paint events such as what happens on the palette and chunks that fall on the floor or walls. I have a catalogue of these blobs and smears. Sometimes I feel like a painting is a curation of these marks, which can never be 100%, controlled. I find music kind of distracting when I paint so usually just silence or some talk radio.
What do you find yourself doodling most frequently?
Lately it’s been cruising around Google maps on street view, looking for buildings or places of interest and adding in my own figures.