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Art Through Time: A Global View

Writing Art: Abstract Figures on Paper

» John J.B. Murry (Murray) (American, 1908–1988)

Abstract Figures on Paper

Abstract Figures on Paper
Artist / Origin: John J.B. Murry (Murray) (American, 1908–1988)
Region: North America
Date: 1984
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Tempera and felt-tip pen on paper
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 28 in. (71.1 cm.), W: 22 in. (55.9 cm.)
Location: Collection of the American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY
Credit: Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum/Photo by John Parnell

J.B. Murry began his artistic career late in life after experiencing a series of visions that he described as personal communications with God.

Murry, an African American tenant farmer, worked in Glascock County, Georgia, from childhood until the age of sixty-five and never learned to read or write. In 1929, he married Cleo Kitchens, and they raised a family of eleven children. In 1977, Murry came under the care of Dr. William Rawlings, Jr., for a recurrent hip problem, and it was during this period that Murry began having visions in which he was directed to spread the word of God through a kind of writing he called “spirit-script.” According to Murry, this indecipherable script was dictated directly by God and could only be read by viewing it through a glass of divine well water.

Though Murry at first produced the script on whatever materials he could find, including scraps of papers and receipts, his drawings became more and more complex over time, as he added abstract, human-like figures to his creations and began to draw and paint in bright colors on larger canvases.

Murry’s works always depicted images of heaven and hell and good and evil, for he believed that his work was intended to inspire others and teach them the word of God. Indeed, Murry developed a growing body of followers who came to his home and listened to his interpretations of God’s teachings as expressed through him and his art. Eventually, Murry’s art was shown in venues throughout the U.S. and occasionally internationally. In the ten years before his death from cancer, Murry produced hundreds of abstract drawings, all imbued with a delicate, ghostly, and otherworldly beauty.

Additional Resources

Carlano, Annie, ed. Vernacular Visionaries: International Outsider Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Hollander, Stacy C. and Brooke Davis Anderson. American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum. New York: American Folk Art Museum in association with Harry N. Abrams, 2002.

Maizels, John. Raw Creation: Outsider Art & Beyond. London: Phaidon, 2000.

Padgelek, Mary G. In the Hand of The Holy Spirit: The Visionary Art of J.B. Murray. Atlanta: Mercer University Press, 2000.

Rhodes, Colin. Outsider Art: Spontaneous Alternatives. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

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