More Life - Jesse Murry: Rising | David Zwirner

Jesse Murry

David Zwirner is pleased to present Jesse Murry: Rising, curated by Lisa Yuskavage and Jarrett Earnest, opening September 17, 2021 at the gallery’s 533 West 19th Street location in New York. 

Painter and poet Jesse Murry (1948–1993) identified three significant approaches to landscape —“poetic,” “dramatic,” and “visionary,” which he aimed to synthesize into abstract paintings. Built of subtly shifting color dynamics, his canvases became “places summoned by the memory through the imagination; where the elements of WEATHER are protagonists that act out moods open to many readings; where the light & space have a spiritual import.” To this end, the horizon was both his central image and guiding ideal, as the moment where near and far, inside and outside, self and other could be negotiated and reconciled. Fusing the Romantic painting tradition of John Constable and J.M.W. Turner with the quality of mind and imagination of Wallace Stevens’s poetry, Murry uniquely sought to create a “landscape” within the fiction of painting that could be “more than a place to dwell but a suitable space for dreams.”

Jesse Murry: Rising brings together paintings from the last five years of the artist’s life. This work—made while confronting his impending mortality from AIDS-related illness—testifies to Murry’s lifelong belief in the capacity of painting to hold the complexity of human meaning, at the meeting of a material fact and a location within the mind.

.A detail from a photo of Jesse Murry in the studio of John Constable, 1991. Photo by Richard Constable.

Jesse Murry, 1991 (detail). Photo by Richard Constable

Jesse Murry, 1991 (detail). Photo by Richard Constable

Born in North Carolina, Jesse Murry studied art and philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College before moving to New York City in 1979. His essays on artists including Hans Hofmann and Howard Hodgkin appeared in a range of publications, including Arts Magazine. After two years of teaching art history and exhibiting at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Murry enrolled in the Yale School of Art at the age of thirty-six. 

Jesse Murry's student ID at Sarah Lawrence College, NY

Jesse Murry’s Sarah Lawrence student ID

Jesse Murry’s Sarah Lawrence student ID

An installation view of an exhibition titled Jesse Murry: Rising, at David Zwirner, New York, in 2021.

Installation view, Jesse Murry: Rising, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

Installation view, Jesse Murry: Rising, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

Fusing the Romantic painting tradition of John Constable and J. M. W. Turner with the quality of mind and imagination of Wallace Stevens’s poetry, Murry uniquely sought to create a “landscape” within the fiction of painting that could be “more than a place to dwell but a suitable space for dreams.”

A mixed media artwork by Jesse Murry, titled Untitled, date not confirmed.

Jesse Murry

Untitled, 1991
Oil and wax on canvas
48 1/2 x 47 3/4 inches (123.2 x 121.3 cm)

“If there is a general theme or idea concerning my work, beyond the delight in color or form, it is to create a space in which the viewer can be as creative in looking as I am when I am painting. There is plenty of space for the viewer to actively participate with his imagination, but initially he is grabbed by color and its magical capacity to shape a world.”

—Jesse Murry, in a statement accompanying his exhibition at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 1984

“I met Jesse at my Yale interview.… He was the most erudite person I ever met. He was physically grand: tall, with a big belly, and very dominant. He went to Yale graduate school in his late thirties to become a painter.… He would come to my studio, and what he said about my work stays with me to this day.”

—Lisa Yuskavage, “Muse”, 2011. Read the full text here.

A mixed media artwork by Jesse Murry, titled In Ryder's Eye, dated 1987.

Jesse Murry

In Ryder's Eye, 1987
Oil and wax on linen
14 1/4 x 18 1/2 inches (36.2 x 47 cm)

Built of subtly shifting color dynamics, Murry’s canvases became “places summoned by the memory through the imagination; where the elements of WEATHER are protagonists that act out moods open to many readings; where the light & space have a spiritual import.” The horizon was both his central image and guiding ideal, as the moment where near and far, inside and outside, self and other could be negotiated and reconciled.

An installation view of an exhibition titled Jesse Murry: Rising, at David Zwirner, New York, in 2021.

Installation view, Jesse Murry: Rising, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

Installation view, Jesse Murry: Rising, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

A mixed media artwork by Jesse Murry, titled A Deluge after Turner, dated 1992.

Jesse Murry

Deluge – After Turner, c. 1990 - 1991
Oil and wax on linen
30 3/4 x 31 inches (78.1 x 78.7 cm)

All my life
has been a life of crossing
from the racial barriers
imposed by the tragic limitations of history
to the transcendental urge
to move beyond those limitations. 

What has prompted this effort toward humanity
is a necessary belief in art’s saving powers of address. 
This is the effort to restore imaginative possibility
along the line of the horizon,
through the space and form of landscape
as the mind recaptures its capacity to create
and the soul may regain its freedom. 



—Jesse Murry, excerpt from “From Notes on Landscape,” 1987

A mixed media artwork by Jesse Murry, titled Untitled, dated 1992.

Jesse Murry

Untitled, 1992
Oil and wax on canvas
20 x 20 inches (50.8 x 50.8 cm)
A mixed media artwork by Jesse Murry, titled Untitled (Rising Abyss Study), dated 1992.

Jesse Murry

Untitled (Rising/Abyss Study), 1992
Oil and wax on canvas
20 x 20 inches (50.8 x 50.8 cm)

In 1987, one year after receiving his Yale MFA, Murry held his first solo exhibition in New York at Sharpe Gallery. In 1983, he was awarded the Mellon Individual Project Grant, and in 1988, the Pollock-Krasner Grant for his work.

A solo exhibition, Jesse Murry: Radical Solitude, was presented at Tibor de Nagy gallery, New York, in 2019.

An installation view of an exhibition titled, Jesse Murry: Radical Solitude, at Tibor de Nagy gallery, New York, in 2019.

Installation view, Jesse Murry: Radical Solitude, Tibor de Nagy, New York, 2019

Installation view, Jesse Murry: Radical Solitude, Tibor de Nagy, New York, 2019

“Murry’s works are not large in scale, but they promote big dreams: his terrain is the unfettered mind and eye. He draws you in with his liquid awareness of how paint works on canvas, and how color and form can and should be handled delicately, and with respect.” 

—Hilton Als, The New Yorker, 2020

A mixed media artwork by Jesse Murry, titled Rising, dated 1992.

Jesse Murry

Rising, 1992
Oil and beeswax on canvas
20 x 20 inches (50.8 x 50.8 cm)
Framed: 25 1/4 x 25 1/4 inches (64.1 x 64.1 cm)
An installation view of an exhibition titled Jesse Murry: Rising, at David Zwirner, New York, in 2021.

Installation view, Jesse Murry: Rising, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

Installation view, Jesse Murry: Rising, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

“Painting and poetry are … the only weapons I have to combat the insanity of the world and the only means I have of acquiring a spiritual grip on the chaotic nature of experience.”

—Jesse Murry, c. 1987

A photo of Jesse Murry at Yale, in 1986.

Jesse Murry, Yale, 1986

Jesse Murry, Yale, 1986

This is a cover of the book Painting Is a Supreme Fiction by Jesse Murry

Cover of the book Painting is a Supreme Fiction by Jesse Murry

Cover of the book Painting is a Supreme Fiction by Jesse Murry

Forthcoming on September 28, 2021, and titled after a paper the artist wrote while at Yale, Painting Is a Supreme Fiction is an unprecedented collection of Murry’s writings. Edited and with an introduction by Jarrett Earnest and a foreword by Hilton Als, the book also includes transcriptions of two of the artist’s notebooks, in which the spatialization of the words across the page approaches the condition of thought.

A photo of Jesse Murry and a poem by him in Lisa Yuskavage's studio in New York.

Poem by and photograph of Jesse Murry in Lisa Yuskavage's studio, New York, 2011. Photo by Paola Ferrario

Poem by and photograph of Jesse Murry in Lisa Yuskavage's studio, New York, 2011. Photo by Paola Ferrario

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