Artist’s Notebook: Wil Murray

June 9, 2014 | Marina Galperina

ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished artwork or project. This week, artist Wil Murray talks about his labor-intensive installation in Toronto and painting by obscuring photographs.

In 2011, Maxime Ballesteros came by my studio in Berlin. I’d asked him to photograph my work for some fly-by-night contemporary art print service that promised a lot but folded in the end. Maxime is a pretty compelling guy. His aesthetic really stuck with me and started to leak into my work. This is his photo of one of my paintings he’d hung. I loved that the painting became something that was as much blocking one’s view as it was the thing being photographed.

Around that time I was painting on photos I’d print off at Rossman for cheap.

And I was buying up old photo books with prints like Grandma and Grand-daughter here. I’d fuck up their faces with paint strokes, let it sit for a while. Those old prints got me thinking about old colour in photos. What was age and what was the way they were made. What was fashion for the time.

I got a camera and started taking photos on film. A friend haggled really hard for a camera at a flea market, insisting I needed it. I did. I took photos of Christmas Markets.

I took photos of trees. I still do.

I took photos of grass.

I took photos in the woods while my wife and I picked mushrooms.

And then I got a camera that could do multiple exposures. I’d camp out in the U-Bahn for the day going from one station to the next, one exposure at each until the roll was full.

This is the first photo I have of Die Welt In Farben.

It is dated the 3rd of January 2012. I know what I must have been working on at the time from the piece that is sitting on the lady’s face. A series of drapery-covered russian women. I can’t remember when I bought the book, but do remember where. I paid full price, 20 euros, at a book seller’s stall on Unter Den Linden. I remember we were going somewhere else and I had to borrow money from my wife to buy it. In September of 2012, I moved to Alberta, Canada.

I grew up here and found it lonely and didn’t feel like photographing anything. Even trees. This is an old car lot in the area of Calgary that my Dad grew up in. Something about the feel of this reminds me of the book. It came with me, of course.

Can’t remember why I took this photo.

Must have been in some application for funding I never got for the project. You can see the un-collaged version of Tafel 2 here.

One day I kept applying Instagram filters to a photo of our barn and got it to look like a 1980s post-apocalypse book for young adults. Key moment.

I got a medium format camera and started to learn to use it. Got all worked up about Val Del Omar one day and took this, thinking I was shooting in Black and White. I wasn’t, but the colour turned me on.

I made a black and white painting, and thinking back to all the old collage materials I’d collected, I got curious about hand-colouring a black and white print of it. Like, leaving all the colour decisions to the end. I love re-ordering the steps to see what they contain, feels like some mad experiment in making a factory moor efficient.

This is the only written note I have about the piece. It seems to direct me toward a writing component that never happened where I was going to translate the text from the book word by word from German to English.

I am not an endurance performance artist and made the decision somewhere along the line that this was not a “use every part of the buffalo” type of work. I also never got the book restored. By January, I’d procrastinated enough and had to get the collages done for the project as I’d promised to show it in May and they still had to be photographed and printed. This is the closest to a sketchbook I get, a pile of painted on stuff.

Each photo lithograph was removed from its backing.

And made into a collage with all the materials I’d collected over the years. I was working on several at a time.

I sent collages, and Bob Carnie sent back stacks of black and white prints. I had a month to colour 41 of them.

The key to hand colouring is having thousands of q-tips and cotton balls on hand at all times. I was already well-versed in crafty business as I spent a year weaving on grade-school looms.

By the time all 41 were coloured, I had eye twitches in both eyes, was terrifically constipated by sitting for 10 hours a day while huffing turpentine.

I don’t know how people do it. Maybe I was doing it wrong. Maybe I am an endurance performance artist.


41 Unique Hand-Coloured Silver Gelatin Prints, Framed
Dimensions Variable

Die Welt In Farben – Tafel 10: Der Aetna von Taormlna aus gesehn 2014
Unique Hand-Coloured Silver Gelatin Print 35.2cm X 44.1cm

Die Welt In Farben – Tafel 22: Römischer Park (Villa Doria-Pamfili) 2014
Unique Hand-Coloured Silver Gelatin Print 35.2cm X 44.1cm
Previous Artist’s Notebook selects:

Artist’s Notebook: Monica Canilao
Artist’s Notebook: Rhett Jones
Artist’s Notebook: Tima Radya
Artist’s Notebook: Parker Shipp
Artist’s Notebook: Brenna Murphy
Artist’s Notebook: Jonathan Monaghan
Artist’s Notebook: Genevieve Belleveau
Artist’s Notebook: Andrew Ohanesian
Artist’s Notebook: Saoirse Wall
Artist’s Notebook: Melissa F. Clarke
Artist’s Notebook: Don Hertzfeldt