• Mervyn McMurtry

    Mervyn McMurtry
    • Artist Statement
      • Creating art provides me with deep joy and fulfilment, enabling me to see new worlds with a painter’s vision. My paintings are heightened, direct, emotional responses to places, people, experiences, images. My current works can be viewed as representational, mostly land/sea/sky-scapes. Although recognisable in content, they display a shift to a more subjective, instinctive interpretation than my earlier paintings; more abstract in the sense of ‘drawing from’, rather than attempting to faithfully reproduce; more personal, rather than conforming to any one stylistic –ism; more painterly’, relishing the sensuous, tactile qualities of oils and acrylics; still accessible, with possibilities for allusions to, and engagement with ideas of transcience, flux, renewal, fragility, and moments of connection/s.

        Teaching drama and performance was my calling; now painting has become my need and passion. I taught, now I learn myself. To bring a performance to life, acting requires action; acting is technique and feeling. So, too, a painting is an artwork, a work of art that is dependent on technique and feeling. In a different medium, the means to convey content and meaning is in and through technique: by the action of the eye and hand, the workings of the mind and the feelings from the heart. My journey in art is to discover, through action, my own technique, the working processes that reveal my thoughts and my feelings.

        Works of art have guided me on my journey; art inspires art; artists learn from artists. Their works help us understand ‘how’, to be awed and inspired by other ways to create and express; more than that, their artworks are an affirmation that art, all the visual and literary and performing arts, music, dance, poetry, prose, drama, sculpture, painting, can uplift, transform, enlighten, and connect us:
        “Only through art can we get outside ourselves and know anothers view of the universe which is not the same as ours,
        And see landscapes which would otherwise have remained unknown to us” (Marcel Proust)...
    • Biography
      • Selected exhibitions:

        Disruption: KZNSA Members’ Exhibition, KZNSA Gallery, Durban (Group)

        Buzzart17, KZNSA Gallery, Durban (Group)

        Art and Craft, Lewitt Design, Con Amore, Durban (Solo)

        Affordable Art, artSPACE, Durban (Group)

        Art Givers’ Exhibition, La Lucia Mall, Durban (Group)
        Own a Space: Sky/light series, Loading Bay Gallery, Durban (Group)
        Members’ Display, KZNSA Gallery, Durban (Group)
        Own a Space: ‘Memory for the slaves’, Loading Bay Gallery, Durban (Group)
        Own a Space: Recent works, Loading Bay Gallery, Durban (Group)

        Affordable Art, artSPACE, Durban (Group)

    • Interview
      • Which new trends or South African artists do you find inspiring at the moment?
        The trends that excite and inspire me include the increased and necessary exposure for local artists (Both the traditional and contemporary in style and subject) through the growth in the online art market and the opening of new galleries and museums; also, those innovative, thought-provoking, often playful Intercultural and multidisciplinary and multi-media forms that cross and erase ‘boundaries’ with integrity. To name just two of the artists I currently admire: for her craftsmanship and conceptual clarity, in a range of mediums, Nandipha Mntambo’s installations; and John Meyer, both for his skill in distilling the essence of landscapes with poetically heightened realism, and the emotional ambiguity of his narrative paintings.

        Which South African deceased artist do you most admire and why?
        In the recent past, Judith Mason, for the provocative dichotomy between the superb execution and disturbing content of her work; before that, the gently defiant humanism of Gerard Sekota, and the whimsical ingenuity and singing colours of Walter Battiss; for nostalgia, a childhood memory of a framed reproduction of “Mont-aux-Sources”, one of J H Pierneef’s station panels.  

        If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?
        Confining myself to South African paintings: last week I would have chosen Charles Peers’s early modernist watercolour, “Ships, Cape Town” for its luminous economy; this week, the vividly lush oils of Andrew Verster’s “Fragile Paradise”; and next week, may I have one of Penny Siopis’s mixed media panels currently on display at Zeitz MOCAA, please. (For sentimental reasons, could I add – both are small - either Michelangelo’s chalk drawing,“Male nude seen from behind”, or one, any one, of Turner’s watercolour sketches of Venice?)  

        How did you get started?  Did you always want to be an artist?
        The creative arts are the core of my being, but Picasso’s “Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once the child grows up” is an apt description of my personal journey as an artist. After a year of dusty ledgers and green pens, I rebelled against my step-parents’ chosen career of accountancy, rather than my choice of art; the only alternative available at the time was to enrole for a diploma in education, and thereafter, degrees in arts, majoring in Literature and Drama.  For more than thirty years I was a lecturer in and professor of a Department of Drama and Performance Studies. During that time, I directed thirty-seven and designed the settings and costumes for sixty-four productions. Within the three-dimensional ‘world’ of the performing arts, the director interprets source material with the actors, the designer creates the visual environment for the action, and both work towards for the essential live interaction between performer and spectator, in the same place and the same time. When I retired, I could choose my own material, express a mood, convey my thoughts, in a new medium; I am my own playwright, director and designer, creating a dialogue on a two-dimensional surface with a future spectator, separated by time and space, but together making the art experience. I still believe that every act of creating and sharing is proof that the arts can be humanity’s most living means of connection, linking the past and present and future, generation to generation, person with person.  

        What are some of the key themes you explore in your work?
        At a time when one becomes mindful of one’s mortality, at moments when personal experiences and losses affirm the passage of time, of transience and of change, life can be reaffirmed in the cycles of renewal within the natural world, or by connecting with the life of anothers' being.  My paintings aim to record that awareness: a single feather, floating, the momentary reflection of light on water, leaves, stained-glassed by the setting sun; and to paint, not ‘what’, but ‘about’: those moments when I feel empathy for, aim to connect with that boy on the rock, alone with his thoughts, or the downcast eyes of each slave on a sculpture.
        What inspired your latest body of work?
        The large oils in an ongoing series: Aloes, Daisies, Echeveria, arose from being moved to paint an intimate view of their abstract, complex en masse order and design, through densely crowded, all-over, close-ups in heightened colours, and value contrasts: an ‘innerscape’ of rhythms, patterns, repetitions, spirals and whorls of textures, shapes, and hues, that require a shift in focus from image to image, new growth in one ‘frame’, decay in another.

        Tell us more about your creative process.

        Everything I create, even the most abstract, has its source in, or is an interpretation of, direct experience or observation; yet the initial choice of subject tends to be instinctive: I respond to and interact with and express my feelings about people and places and moments that choose me. Most often, in the process, I am in a state of being in which I can sense that a shape or colour needs changing, but in which I trust the painting to lead me; often, then, only when I finally add the last brushstroke, am I more conscious of what the interpretation of the finished work might be ‘about’.

        What drives you as an artist?
        To be immersed in the process, rather than aim to produce: I feel uncomfortable negotiating the tensions between what I need to paint in the present, and what a viewer may want to purchase in the future. To be able to accommodate the tensions between allowing the painting to paint itself, intuitively, and perhaps restricting its ‘meaning’ by a concept or title. To never be arrogant enough to assume that every viewer should appreciate the work I produce. When I am moved by a work of art, I understand again how much art, indeed, all the arts, can provide and nourish.

        Do you have a favourite or most meaningful work?
        There is a Buddhist saying that is open to many meanings; with reference to my work, I think of it, not in relation to
        the painting just completed, but the blank canvas before me: “Your most important work is right in front of you”.

        What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?
        The realisation that, although there is so much more to discover about materials and techniques and myself in and through art, I have received recognition for my work: that, in the three years since I have been able and fortunate to follow my calling, I have participated in ten exhibitions (four by invitation) and sold twenty-four paintings.  While expressing myself through art, there are those, unknown to me, who have found a connection with my work; that I regard as an achievement. 

        What are your aspirations for the future?
        To simplify, experiment, learn, improve. To support, empathise, assist, share. To remind myself that, although profession means a ‘calling’, the origins of ‘amateur’ are amator, ‘lover’, and amare, ‘love’.
        To remain true to what and how and why I create.
  • Echeveria, Nottingham Road - Painting by Mervyn McMurtry MERVYN MCMURTRY
    Echeveria, Nottingham Road
    Painting / 92 x 61 cm
    $1 150
  • Aloes, Bazley Beach - Painting by Mervyn McMurtry MERVYN MCMURTRY
    Aloes, Bazley Beach
    Painting / 122 x 91 cm
    $1 220
  • From The Aloe Train, Creighton - Painting by Mervyn McMurtry MERVYN MCMURTRY
    From The Aloe Train, Creighton
    Painting / 70 x 50 cm