James McMurray: Faces and Places
Nancy & Warner Bacon Gallery, February 9, 2018 – June 10, 2018
After decades of teaching at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, McMurray holds the title of Professor Emeritus. He and his wife Barbara live in the rural hills near Cambridge Springs, surrounded by trees, ponds, and farms. This introspective exhibition features closely observed portraits of people and places: family, home, studio, and the surrounding woods.
A skilled painter who works primarily in oil on canvas, McMurray is capable of layering glaze over subtle brushwork to achieve representational illusions. He can also portray the essence of his subject en plein air, using rapid brushstrokes to carve form and capture a sense of changing light.
These paintings tell a story of home and passing time. Here is the station wagon with the wood panels, the young couple before they had children, the studio window with jars of brushes, memories of walks in the woods and trips to the beach. There are portraits of friends who have passed on, trees that have fallen, and ponds and meadows through seasonal changes. The landscapes are as lovingly rendered as the people: the cucumber tree outside the window, the maple that was only a sapling when they first arrived, the red poppies that Barbara planted decades ago.
Every year around his birthday, McMurray makes a self-portrait. This annual reckoning records time passing in a variety of art media. Colors and fashions change, beards come and go, but the artist’s intense gaze is consistent. In the age of the selfie, these portraits seem familiar, yet their language is an older dialect. They reveal the thoughtful, questioning gaze of a man facing the deepening lines and graying hair of another year. They seem to state “I am here,” and ask, “Who am I now?”