Times Colonist

A delicious way with paint

- ROBERT AMOS robertamos@telus.net

Abe Murley, who is now 35 years of age, seems equipped with the full range of skills necessary for success as an artist. This, his first major exhibition in Victoria, is as auspicious a beginning as I’ve ever seen.

I met Murley recently at the Humboldt Street Winchester Gallery, which is also a tea room operated by Elizabeth Levinson. He is a Victoria native, quiet and restrained in manner, and when I asked him about his influences and education he didn’t have much to say. From www.abemurley.com I learned that he is a graduate of Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, continued his studies at the Art Students League in New York and pursued his interests in museums and galleries. He takes seriously his place in the tradition of painting.

Murley can draw. His canvases teem with figures, seen close up and crowding the picture plane. Each is rendered with finesse and confidence. Though his overriding attitude is an emotional expressive­ness, the sumptuous paint handling is built on an architectu­re of anatomical correctnes­s. His characters are often bluntly foreshorte­ned, and he can render hands and feet, wrists and elbows convincing­ly — a rarer thing than you might think.

Whether he is painting winsome young girls or the seasoned glare of a wrinkled old gent, Murley is attuned to the human condition. Not only are the facial expression­s engaging, but there is a pervasive attention to all parts of the human form, including the gestures of feet and hands. These people are generally seen close-up, interactin­g in kitchens, restaurant­s, tram cars and dance halls.

Much as he focuses on people — his paintings are “basically all biographic­al,” he admitted — the spaces he creates for them to inhabit are equally interestin­g. In particular, the rooms are littered with contempora­ry objects like pop cans and disposable coffee cups, book spines, signs — “anything contempora­ry,” as he notes. These are narratives of our moment, which in the future may become as historical­ly interestin­g as Hogarth’s prints or Edward Hopper’s urban scenes.

The artist explained to me that he was concerned with the “other exploratio­ns” that take his paintings beyond what has been so well depicted by artists of the past. He has a way of breaking up the space, as if he had tossed down dozens of photos of the same scene in a way that didn’t quite match. His slightly cut-up paintings have a jiggly, jarring up-tempo compositio­n, which keeps the viewer guessing. Murley draws our gaze to the background, and then to the foreground, and from side to side. Each facet is in focus, and as we look from one to the next, an element of time enters our perception­s, creating a sense of immediacy.

Other artists have pictoriall­y taken me to some of these places — Vicky Marshall of Vancouver, Max Bates and Brad Pasutti and Michael Lewis of Victoria come to mind — but they treat their scenes with a distance or an ironic stance. For all his intensity, Murley is calm, sincere and sympatheti­c to what it is like to be alive today. His purpose is not to judge, but to paint.

And what a delicious way he has with paint! He chooses colours and shapes with a bold hand and puts each in place generously. The dance-hall scene — the width of a king-size bed — is a festival of pattern, of op-art dresses and fishnet stockings and floral prints clashing and colliding in time to the music.

It is with relief that I find Murley is happy to be here. Though he has lived in Los Angeles and travelled in India, he says “Victoria is the place to be.”

 ??  ?? Detail from Dinner at Naomi’s, by Abe Murley.
Detail from Dinner at Naomi’s, by Abe Murley.
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