I first met Graham Murtough when, as an American college student, he was studying for a semester in Florence, Italy. I was a teaching assistant at the same art school. Though we became friends effortlessly and socialised a lot together, we didn’t see each other’s creative work as we were in different studios. This was, oh, 17 years ago.
Being pre-email days we lost touch, though I did get a postcard from him once that I’ve kept (and I never keep anything):
Of course, I wanted to be like Tallulah and mail myself around the world too. After much continent-hopping, I did settle (somewhat) in London. As did Graham. In the same-ish neighbourhood, no less. And it was only a few weeks ago that I finally discovered his artwork for the first time.
The pieces he’s been working on involve applying hand-ground lacquer, sanding it down, and then applying some more. Doing this over and over again, some of his pieces have about 20 layers. The effect of it is mesmerising – you can see the ghosts of previous veneers coming through. Despite being only a few millimetres thick, they have dreamy depth.
As I looked around his studio it was like getting to know him all over again. He collects hair! He tried weaving and there’s the loom! Then I saw a piece of parchment paper with a blotch of blue-grey with silver reflective dots and squares. What was it?
He told me he was dyeing some clothes once, and as he hung up the fabric to dry, the dye and salt crystals (used to make the dye ‘stick’ to the fabric) dripped onto a piece of paper underneath. He became intrigued and started experimenting with this some more.
‘But what do you want to do with them?’
‘I want to see how it evolves,’ he said. ‘I can change one variable at a time and see where it leads me.’
Now, I’m good with arriving at a new city without a map or a guide. Hell, I’m great with moving to a new country (my family would say ‘on whim’) without a return ticket. But I had never approached a creative project with the same abandon. (See – I’m even thinking of creativity as being divided into projects.) It sounds, well, fun.
Graham has been experimenting with ideas like this over years. Decades. It was humbling and inspiring to see how he allowed himself to go off in tangents. To not think something was a waste of time because he couldn’t envision the end point. As with his lacquer paintings, he allowed the work to take its own evolutionary course, as well as played with it to see how he could push it in different directions. Various shows and exhibitions along the way allow him (and us) to see points along this path. But he’s not in any rush to follow an outline, a deadline or a plan.
And so I start this blog in the same spirit – dip in, see how it evolves, feel my way through it. It already feels fun.