John Philip Murray

Reviews 2001



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Drawings & Print

Heads without faces emerge from ancient ruin

Review by Alannah Hopkin, Irish Examiner, 4th June 2001.

DRAWING From Mosaics, by John Philip Murray indicates the works' origins in the remains of mosaics in Tunisia. The work was inspired when the artist discovered the incomplete face of Virgil staring at him across the centuries in the Sousse mosaic, the starting point for two inter-related series of works.

Three heads, a triptych in oil on paper, could be described as faceless faces. Each of the three heads has been painted over and scumbled, so that although the features are indistinguishable, it is still apparent that each head was once an individual. The painting is looser in Three Heads than in the other heavily worked pieces, which are based on the mosaics themselves. These smaller works logically explore related colour and texture within the grid format of the mosaic tiles, or tesserae, usually concentrating on a border section.

The mosaics are painted larger than life-style, the earth coloured tiles intersected by a T, or cross-shaped darker stripe. Looked at closely it becomes apparent that these mosaics are not made of neatly squared-off tiles, but their component parts are of irregular size with more-or-less rounded corners. The individual texture of each pale terracotta coloured tile is built up of dense layers of paint.

The anonymous head and the century old mosaics come together in a series in which a head, or parts of one, is superimposed on the grid of mosaic. Anonymous Mosaic Aspiration 1, along narrow oil on board, is overpainted with the top half of a bald head, just visible on its lowest edge, the pink rounded shape contrasting with the small square tesserae. Anonymous Profile Mosaic Looking Right consists of four square panels of painted mosaic, two of which contain a sliver of right-facing profile. Gradually a tension builds between the old pieces of stone, handmade and placed into mosaic formation in the distant past, and the more ephemeral, human presence indicated by the partial and anonymous head-shape.

Also on show are several of Murray's superb drawings from life in sanguine Conté on paper. It is often Murray's practice to make life drawing without facial features, in order not to distract from the aspect of anatomy that he is investigating. The show is completed by a selection of earlier work.