Famous outback artist, John Murray of Lightning Ridge painted a HQ ute, the first in the series of utes displayed in Utes in the Paddock. As described by John, Circle Work is the practice of madly driving a ute flat out in circles, usually performed ‘bundied up’ at a Bachelors and Spinsters Ball (the traditional bush get together for young blokes and ladies).“I have used the galah as a reference to the larrikin lads and ladettes who drive utes. I painted the ute sky blue and have the galahs flying in a circular motion around the ute. The galah towing the ute away represents the 'fun police'.”
After many years painting outback Australia from his home base of Lightning Ridge, John Murray is gaining recognition as one of this country’s leading Outback Artists painting in the style of realism.
Murray’s career began on completion of his Diploma of Art, from the National Art School, Sydney in 1975. John exhibited with Macquarie Galleries before heading overseas in 1978. He travelled extensively in India, lived and worked in Europe and in 1983 arrived in Lightning Ridge, in north west NSW whilst on a quest to find somewhere to live and paint full time.
John found the opal mining town of Lightning Ridge was the perfect environment to live simply and with few overheads on the fields, set up a simple studio to work out of and began painting in earnest. His colourful depictions of the opal fields were popular amongst locals and tourists and it was not long before he began exhibiting collections of 25-30 works every few years in Lightning Ridge.
The exhibitions were done in collaboration with sound and lighting impresario Karl Lawrie, which at the time was a radical departure from simply presenting works on canvas on a white wall. The audience would enter a black room with smoke machines and evocative music and slowly the paintings would be uncovered with a range of sound and lighting effects, taking the viewer on an interactive journey. The peak of this collaboration was “Rock to the Top”, staged at the Darwin Performing Arts Centre, 1989, showcasing a series of works from his travels in the Northern Territory.
In 1991, John and his partner were privileged to spend time on “Dauar”, an uninhabited island belonging to the Murray Island group in the Torres Strait. A series of mixed media water studies on paper resulted from this rare opportunity.
John opened a permanent gallery in the township of Lightning Ridge in 1992 and produced a range of Limited Edition prints. During this period John was known for his works of the opal fields, a quirky mix of realism and whimsy. Several such works grace the walls of private collections and commercial opal showrooms in Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Germany, USA and Japan. A collection of works featured at the Park Royal, Canberra in 1992 in conjunction with the Black Opal Stakes racing carnival.
From 1995-2000 Murray travelled often within outback Australia producing a large body of works from the different regions. His painting style lends itself perfectly to the harsh beauty of the interior landscape of outback Australia. The corner country where the dingo fence joins the states of NSW, QLD and SA is the inspiration for many of his well known works. Areas explored closer to home including Bourke, Wanaaring and Tibooburra played a prominent role in paintings produced at this time. “Gateway to the Outback”, a mural commissioned by the Bourke Shire Council, was painted by John and local indigenous collaborator Brian Smith in 1995. This public artwork stands on the entrance to Fred Hollows Way, Bourke NSW.
In 1996 his journey across the Tanami Desert and on to Broome culminated in “It’s A Bloody Big Beach” collaboration with his wife Viki, a photographer. This collection was exhibited at the artist’s gallery in Lightning Ridge.
2000-2005 was a period of exploring the agricultural heritage of his local area and some of his most detailed, realistic and intricate studies were produced at this time. As well as large acrylics on canvas, Murray produced several pencil sketches of the many buildings and sheds on the wheat and sheep properties in the area. Two of these landed him recognition from the wider art community as winners of the Landscape prize at the Royal Easter Show and Peoples Choice in the Country Energy Art Awards.
In 2006 John began a series of road trips to Birdsville and the regions bordering the Simpson Desert. This reignited a love affair with the Australian deserts that began back in 1988 and continues to this day. John is currently working on a series to exhibit in 2009 that will be a culmination of these journeys. Recent works have seen a clarity and technical confidence that far surpasses anything he has produced in the past. John Murray is currently in the process of erecting a large public work on the Birdsville Track, “The Early Pie n Ear”, a 40 ft sculpture fashioned out of recycled VW car bodies.
John was also recently commissioned by Graham Pickles (owner of Burrawang West Station and driving force behind "Utes in the Paddock") to create a new logo for the Burrawang White Dorper Stud. "While John Murray was here, I asked him to come up with a new logo for the Burrawang White Dorper Stud. We’ve since installed our new sign . . . it’s not your average run of the mill stud sign but gets the point across that White Dorpers are about meat and fertility."