Responding to a master: James Murray interview

Artist and actor James Murray, the creator of In Flow, spoke to us about the impetus behind his tempestuous works, currently exhibited at The Arc. In this article, he takes us through the journey of his response to Constable: The Dark Side and how he used the renowned artist's techniques in conjunction with his own as interpretive tools to express his understanding of Constable’s later work and life.

1.Where did you begin when you started this exhibition project in response to the works of Constable?

My jumping-off point was Constable’s Rainstorm over the Sea. It’s such an immediate and reactive painting that it grabbed my attention and fired up my imagination.

What is the storm representing in the painter's life? What technique did he use to get that drama onto the canvas?  What would it be like to be inside that storm out at sea?

Ultimately, I concluded that Constable was probably in a world of emotional pain about his dying wife and I wanted to zoom in on that storm and create a piece that brought the same out in me. I wrestled for months before finally letting the painting take over and what resulted was a giant Romantic sublime seascape which represented the abject fear and hopelessness of a nightmare I occasionally have about being lost at sea in a deep dark storm!

Shot of Broken silence, one of Murray’s original works, alongside a referential print of Constable’s Rainstorm Over the Sea, in the artist’s studio.

2. In Constable’s storm is a powerful piece that transports the viewer into the heart of a terrifying storm. Could you tell us more about the creation of this work?

Constable used quick, gestural brush strokes to create those unique rain shards in his work, so I wanted to honour that impulsive style in my piece. It worked well – as water, when whipped into a storm, it has so much movement and depth to it, and ‘action’ painting like this is what I enjoy the most as a painter.

The painting took a while as I discovered through trial and error how to create depth with paint layering, texture with various mediums and when and when not to use glaze.

It quickly transpired that painting water and weather is incredibly hypnotic and probably very therapeutic… no surprise why the great man spent so much of his time exploring these.

Installation shot of In Flow showing In Constable’s Storm. Murray achieved the glistening atmospheric effect so visible in this work with the use of a scumble (the application of a thin, opaque and brighter layer of paint).

3. Having started work for this show in 2021, how do you now feel seeing your work exhibited alongside Constable?

To be exhibited alongside a great master, such as John Constable, is a strange experience! Of course, it’s deeply humbling and the imposter syndrome levels are off the charts, but having spent years studying both his work and the man himself, it’s actually a very similar process to creating a character as an actor. You have to let your imagination go to work on how the painter might have been feeling, when he put brush to canvas and what psychological agency drove him to certain ‘behaviours’ or techniques as an artist. This way, the unattainable hero becomes just another human being with similar thoughts and emotions as your own. That said, it is, of course, a profound honour to have spent time in Constable’s head and for our works to be exhibited together.

Murray contemplating Rainstorm over the Sea, the catalyst for his recent creations, on the opening day of the exhibition Constable: The Dark Side.

In Flow is open until 25 June at City Space, The Arc. All paintings are available to purchase.

James Murray | The Arc Winchester – arts, reading and community
Presenting new paintings by artist James Murray.
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