Interview: James William Murray

James William Murray uses photography as part of a multi-disciplinary practice. After speaking about his work for us at April’s talk about photography and sculpture, we interviewed him regarding his practice and his current solo exhibition Desire Works


Fragility and the ephemeral are intrinsic to your exploration of desire and absence. How does photography convey those notions?

One of the ways I think about photography is as a container for sculptural and performative gestures that may only exist for the duration of an exhibition or just for a short while in my studio. These objects and actions are able to endure within photographic space.

Recently I have been thinking about the function of photography in relation to exhibition making. I am interested in the potential of installation images not only as a practical means of documentation, but also how these images could be presented as works in and of themselves. This is something I am planning to develop into a book when I have some downtime.

Desire Works – Installation view

Drawing, sculpture and photography beautifully relate to each other in your work. Has your practice always been interdisciplinary or did it naturally evolve to be so?

For my undergrad, I studied performance and visual art and made a number of performance pieces specifically for the camera. I then went to work for a painter as a studio assistant before completing a Photography MA and establishing my own practice. This experience has naturally fed into my understanding of artistic production and influences the work I am making today.

I always start with technical sketches and/or maquettes for sculptural works as well as designs for frames, plinths and other display apparatus. Sometimes preparatory drawings develop into works themselves such as Attempting to Draw a Perfect Circle, 2015. Working through an idea with a variety of media is not so much a choice as a necessity; it is what the work needs.

Reflections II & III, archival pigment prints in artist frames, 30.2 x 21.5 x 1.5 cm

We can find repetition and reverse imagery as a strategy in some of your pieces. Can you tell us about your use of positive and negative pairs of images and objects?

This motif was first developed in the series Reflections as a means of visually exploring the contradictions and conflicts of desire in relation to the photographic. It was also a way of creating aesthetic continuity across an expanded project comprising a number of individual pieces and smaller series.

The use of the diptych as both a formal and conceptual device has become increasingly important to the work. My recent diptych ‘Screen‘ was first inspired by Japanese folding screens and their relationship to ideas of exposure, concealment, projection and desire, which are intrinsic to our appreciation of the photographic.

Untitled (Touched) archival pigment print in artist’s frame with graphite finish, 29.5 x 33.5 x 3 cm

Gesture is key in pieces like Semblance, an ephemeral face cast made of marble dust, and Untitled (Achilles and Patroclus), polished graphite on birch panels. How do you reconcile the importance of the process and your studio work with its final presentation in the gallery space?

There is often a reflection on the materials and processes involved with the production of the work. Sometimes things are presented unfinished or in process. Perhaps as my practice develops, these works will resurface in some other form but there is no set plans for my work. Things evolve naturally and hopefully that is evident in the work.

I have recently moved into a much larger studio with separate spaces for making and installing works. This has been invaluable in terms of thinking through the work spatially and allowing time to consider its presentation in a number of different ways. This means that when I get to the point when the work is being installed for exhibition, its installation has been considered and developed as part of the process.

Untitled (Apollo & Hyacinth) flax linen with copper tacks on substrates, 183 x 180 x 4 cm

Volumes with Sheet Copper (Apollo) copper, square section tube steel, books dimensions variable

What will we be able to see in Desire Works, your solo exhibition at Project 78 Gallery

The idea for Desire Works was to produce a self-reflexive body of work exploring an analogy between the idea of desire as a self-perpetuating drive and my studio practice, which is constantly shifting in pursuit of its object. Because Project 78 is a single room gallery with large windows at street level, it presented a great opportunity to produce a set-like installation specifically for the space. I treated the exhibition as a work itself and there are threads which run throughout each of the individual pieces.

Everything radiates out from Untitled (Touched), a photograph depicting my hand covered in graphite powder after making a graphite diptych painting that is hung on the opposing wall. Also included is Untitled (Laid) two feather pillows covered with a layer of copper leaf. Whilst I was making this piece there was copper leaf blowing all around the studio and I was constantly having to sweep it up. As such, I decided to present my studio broom as a work in the installation.

I was asked by the gallery to produce a new piece as an edition. For this, I made Volumes With Sheet Copper (Apollo), two separate publications depicting the same statue of Apollo from different angles. The opposing pages are obscured sheets of copper cut precisely to fit each volume and are displayed on bespoke steel plinths. It is a sculpture about sculpture and of course photography.


Desire Works

Project 78 Gallery
78 Norman Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, TN38 0EJ

22 April – 13 May

Wednesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm


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