BEN MURRAY - AN INTRODUCTION
By Kay Rosen
I first met Ben through our mutual friend, the late artist Kevin Wolff. After Ben and Jenny Buffington, his partner, moved to Miller Beach in 2017, I got to know them better as neighbors and through our shared input on Kevin’s estate, with Kevin’s husband David Scott. During these years I have been in love with Ben’s work and have been lucky enough to visit his studio from time to time (until COVID that is, when the best we could do was digital images). Yet Ben’s work is so physical, that even through images I feel like I’m in their presence. They pull me into their orbit with their scale, beauty, and energy. As a more conceptual artist, I am always a little in awe of abstract painting and feel a little excluded, as if it were a club I didn’t belong to or a language I didn’t speak fluently, but not in Ben’s case. I am hugely engaged (but still in awe). Maybe it’s partly because one of his sources and inspirations is film, a medium that brings another entire frame of reference to his painting.
This connection should be considered when viewing his paintings. Very specific films, Rose Lowder’s Bouquets and Hollis Frampton’s Winter Solstice, for example, not only inspire Ben’s paintings but contribute in a very performative way to them almost like a metronome regulates tempo or an orchestra conductor shapes and shades a work or the way a score lays the template, regulating the tone of his painting process. I have never actually witnessed Ben actively painting while the film loops play in the studio, but maybe I understand. The films are not background, they seem more like active participants, goading and guiding him. He internalizes them until the boundaries between them practically disappear. It’s almost as if they come to share a common gene pool. It is a little bit of a chicken-egg situation: which comes first? The films might inspire Ben’s painting, but he chooses the films in the first place. In writing this I wondered if Ben should become a filmmaker, but I think he is too passionate about the materiality of painting and is involved in a sort of friendly mano a mano with them, more physical I think than a mere dialogue (Ben is tall). Besides, he has found a successful way to combine his two passions into a seamless, coherent whole, with the fast-paced fragmentation of the films driving the paintings, which are really time-based after all. But to me, the paintings can also be viewed and enjoyed completely independently of the films. Each has its own very distinct voice whose vocabulary of color, brush strokes, layering, movement, and composition sharply distinguishes it from the films and from each other. Multiple bridges connect Ben’s work and his personal and artistic influences, but to me they all feed through his paintings which stand grandly alone.