We had the good fortune of connecting with James Austin Murray and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi James Austin, how do you think about risk?
Taking risks are essential if you want to grow and succeed. A number of years ago I was invited by Madison Gallery in California to do an artist residency there and have a subsequent solo exhibition. At the time I was just starting to get noticed and it was a dream scenario. So I bet the house. What I mean by that is I took my life savings, which was about $50,000 and I spent every dime of it on that show. I bought dozens of panels and an embarrassing amount of paint and supplies. I cleared out my accounts and went to work. By the time I arrived back home I was living on credit card debt and suddenly felt very poor. The solo exhibition was months away. I had done the work and now had a hard time continuing working because of funds. I believed in my work and felt confident, it was still a scary time. I had bet the house on a horse, but I was that horse. Of all the risks I’ve taken that was the most graphic example of a successful outcome, we had a sold out show and I had friends come in from all over to be there. While I was still working a day job before making a living as an artist, I worked as a firefighter. There is a heavy emphasis on risk vs. reward. In other words, don’t risk your life or endanger your colleagues to search a room that’s most likely empty. On the other hand, if there’s a mother standing on the street telling you that her child is in the back room, that’s a worthy risk. It’s funny how much that plays into everyday life. For me the risk of not putting my savings on the line was really me choosing not to regret. Had it turned out differently I’d have had mild regret that I spent myself into debt but I wouldn’t have felt it was a bad decision.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m an abstract artist who studied Illustration, a shout out to my pals who graduated from Parsons Illustration Dept 1992. I still have a deep love of figurative work and do draw from life, on and off throughout the year. Even while I was a student I was always confused and drawn to abstract artworks. It took me more than a decade after graduating art school to dive fully into abstraction. I really felt I needed to understand more than I did as a student to even begin doing abstraction with any real devotion. I’m of the belief that if you’re able to draw and paint realistically then you will be able to make a much better abstract painting than someone who cannot. I’m most excited about a body of work that’s been stymied by COVID. I had been working on a project of making my own paint with earth. I have paintings with earth from Jaipur, India as well as works from Brasilia, Brazil and numerous other locations that have personal meaning to me. I was hoping to do a road trip this year and visit locations throughout The United States. I still hope to visit specific locations, places that have spiritual meaning to not just me but to our country. I’d like to make works with earth from the Gettysburg battlefield for instance and haven’t been able to reach anyone during COVID to get permission to do so. I think that we all have a relationship to the earth we walk on. We know that some of that earth is special to us, and that’s what this new body of work is about. Professionally, I have arrived at the place I’m in, by being steadfast, and doing the best work I can do. I had a conversation a year ago with an artist friend who is roughly as successful as myself in the world’s eye. We both were questioning how you get to the next level. It was a conversation that stayed with me, and I realised that it was the same question I am asked by younger talented artists. How do you advance? How do you get into galleries, or in our case, how do you get into the artistic canon. The answer I realise is make better work. That’s what I tell young artists, just keep making better work. That is what it’s about, keep making better work and the world will notice.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I always believe that nobody gets anywhere on their own. I’ve been lucky to have so many people either showing me the way or supporting my efforts. Early in my artistic career, before it was apparent I would have a “career,” I had painful and wonderful critiques by Larry Qualls, Richard Stewart and Paul Toner. They were all art world professionals who were generous enough to give me honest/harsh critiques when I was still finding my way. That is so important to an artist. Michael Lyons Wier who gave me my first solo exhibition in the Chelsea district in NYC helped me get a foot hold that might not have happened. Lorna York at Madison Gallery also was instrumental in pushing my career forward. Lastly, I have to mention Erin Page, who helps me run the business side of my vocation, I really couldn’t function without her help. Of course there have been probably another 20 people who’ve supported me on the way and I’ll regret forgetting at least a few by the time this gets published.
portrait photo: Daniela Ikawa