Isabel Ngan

Critical Methods for Contemporary Art


LIFE REVIEW, Ben Murray’s second solo exhibition at the Monique Meloche Gallery, is a beautifully ominous, dramatic, and strong collection of mostly oil on canvas works that revolves around memories, painted through the cinematic lens. Deep and brooding large-scale canvases line the walls, filled with overwhelming strong strokes that at first glance seem to be no more than an ill-defined mess. But after spending a bit more time taking in the collection, the brushstrokes reveal the tantalizing nuance of each piece. Murray’s work explores the complexities of how we remember, imagine memories, and recreate memories.

Memories are not transferred or understood in a linear fashion. They are triggered in clusters and are remembered as images from the connecting of our consciousness and unconsciousness. “Life Review” can be defined as the confronting of the past and a part of the unconsciousness that is not resolved (Butler, Encyclopedia of Aging).  Murray’s work takes on the idea of memory by looking at his own. His work portrays subjective experiences, but through the use of mundane scenes that could have been experienced by anyone.

When one enters the gallery one is drawn into a large space with five enormous paintings that span the walls. Each individual painting draws the viewer in with the strong strokes that hold their form in the center and dissipate towards the edges of the canvas. The canvases utilize the contrast of the white and black, strong brush strokes and watered down paint drips to highlight the dichotomies of dark and light, clear and unclear, and soft and strong. There is “a particularly vivid imagination and memory for the past” that is reflected within each piece, just as it is with real memories (Butler, Encyclopedia of Aging).  The paintings show how “early life events are remembered with sudden and remarkable clarity, and people often experience a renewed ability to free-associate” (Butler, Encyclopedia of Aging). Murray’s utilization of mundane places and objects like stairs and a door allow the viewer to reflect on their own lives and childhoods. 

“EXT/INT. DRIVING – ROOM – NIGHT” (2016) was the first piece that my eyes fell on. This work has a clear central focus that is illuminated. At first glance, Murray seems to pull from Cubism to create form. There seems to be a door or an opening that invites me into the piece. This mundane image of what could be a hallway or entryway makes me wonder where the artist is taking me.  The lighter rectangles on the right of white and pink look as if they are mimicking the black opening in the center. This connects to the idea that memories and dreams have moments of déjà vu within them – images that are repeated. Memories are never clear and this repetitive placement of the opening reflects that idea. The strokes of color at the top of the composition remind me of the aura of the northern lights and as my gaze looks towards the edge of the canvas the strokes become less formed and random. The strokes used throughout piece helps to create one cohesive image.

This piece gives me a sense of fear and anticipation. The way he plays with light and dark in the way colors are used and covered and diluted in the black and grey strokes makes it seem as if something bad might happen. The darkness of door looks distant, but the more I stare, the door slowly moves toward you. The painting is confronting; I want to look away, yet at the same time I want to keep looking. Like how horror movies follow the characters towards danger, while the viewer knows danger lies ahead, this piece holds a sense of suspension.

“INT. STEPS (Rise Above)” (2016) is a dynamic piece in which lines become form through the transformation of material. When I first saw this piece, I could see strong strokes that formed what seemed like just randomly layered horizontal lines. After observing the piece for a few minutes, forms started to emerge from the canvas. What was just two-dimensional turned three-dimensional. The artist creates this complex multidimensionality is formed through the accents of gold strokes and white. The strokes give the piece weight and give the composition the feeling of substantiality. The gold illuminates and structure of the piece and emphasizes the form suggested by the strong black horizontal lines. Vertical paint drips move vertically both at the top of the canvas and the bottom and extends the piece into the space around it. The drips remind me of how memories bleed into one another. The colors interact in harmony with one another and the technique used brings up the ideas of focus and clarity and how that manifests within memory. This piece reminds me the way nightmares appear in your head while you are sleeping. The large rectangular strokes bring this ominously magical sense of confrontation, as if stairs flew in front of me, creating a pathway that wasn’t there before. I thought that this piece was one of the strongest and most dynamic pieces of the show. In contrast to “INT. STEPS (Rise Above)”, “INT/EXT. ROOM – DAY” (2016) at first seems light and filled, but consists of many unclear forms. The use of grey, blue, pink, sage, and purple creates a quasi-dream state. The wet appearance of the paint gives the piece an ethereal feeling. Just as memories are fleeting, the images look like they fade off their canvases. Both, however, are framed through a cinematic lens that projects an image of memory and transformation.

All the works of art maintain a clear connection to the cinematic lens. All the canvases show how “images appear, dissolve and become filters for one another; light is shifting and transitional; time is elongated and compressed” (Current Exhibition: In Life Review, Monique Meloche Gallery). Murray creates a filter that is dream-like and is akin to how we interact with memories. His investigation into the aesthetics of memory mirrors “explore this mortal notion using a cinematic lens, as if life itself were a screenplay to be viewed before the final frame” (Current Exhibition: In Life Review, Monique Meloche Gallery). “CLOSE – DOOR” (2016) illustrates this idea of cinematic lens and how compositions are seen as a still frame. In this piece, the door is closed with a slight opening at the bottom, and though the door is not fully within the frame, there is a focus on the light behind the door. The glitter is juxtaposed with the otherwise dark nature of the piece, and creates a filter for the composition. The lack of a handle on the door reminds me of tilted truths that are presented within dreams – how we experience reality one way and remember it differently. Within each piece there is a transformative quality that connects film, lines, and form into one.

Murray does an effective job in highlighting the subjective nature of memories through the images that reflects everyday. The works allow for the viewer to see himself or herself within the scene that is presented on the canvas through the sheer size of each painting. The size allows for the transformation of space. The pieces highlight feelings of fear and curiosity in the viewer that allow the ideas of memory to extend beyond the canvas. The wetness of the paint and the layering of colors give a cohesiveness to each piece and shows the clarity created through form.



Works Cited

Butler, Robert N. "Life Review." Encyclopedia of Aging., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2017.

"Current Exhibition: In Life Review." Monique Meloche Gallery. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2017.

Editor, Art. "Review: Ben Murray/Monique Meloche Gallery." Newcity Art. N.p., 15 May 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2017.