Practice of Interest
An attempt to look inward
with Brett Murray
Brett Murray is a multidisciplinary artist using satire to offer socio-political and economic commentary. In past shows, Murray’s work mocked predators, politicians, oligarchs, sycophants and the corrupt. However during lockdown, the artist was compelled to look closer to home for his subject matter. Shifting from perpetrators to people, Limbo marks Murray’s transition from an accusatory stance to one that is more empathetic. Featured in this week’s Of Interest we look at Murray’s transition from an accusatory stance to a more empathetic one.
Inside Everard Read CIRCA, Cape Town, Brett Murray is walking a small group of imminent collectors through his current solo exhibition, Limbo. Guided by a piece of paper he occasionally unfolds, Murray peppers his thoughts on making the body of work with punchlines delivered at his own expense. The first is an anecdote featuring Karel Nel. “I had a well known curator tell me that my bronzes are my strength and that my other works were nice to have subtitles,” he pauses. “That dissipated about two thirds of my practice so I retired to a naughty corner and cried myself to sleep that night,” he adds before explaining how sculpture seems to naturally be where he saw his work going.
First developed in the 1980s, Brett Murray’s art practice started with a conscription. “I was supposed to be in the army but I refused, choosing to study for eight or nine years instead. I went up to my Masters and when I couldn’t get a doctorate, I left the country.” Back in South Africa, Murray began to reflect on notions of identity. “I could have looked inwardly but instead chose to look outwardly. Not introspecting, I was the satirist who threw stones at nationalism, patriarchy, the military and conscription during that time.”
In the game for almost three decades, Murray notes the problematic nature of his “white navel gazing. More than before, I understand the need to negotiate and reflect on my place as a white satirist in South Africa, particularly when the government I am throwing stones at is predominantly white.
From the gallery’s perspective, director Emma van der Merwe mentions collectors continuing to connect with Murray’s practice, methodology, textures and language, even as it evolves. “We were excited that many of our collectors had returned to invest in Brett again. In terms of collectibility as a form of resonance, there are so many different moments of pause and connection in Limbo,” adds van der Merwe.
Previously making work about perpetrators, Murray’s bronze sculptures had a dark and sinister way about them. This was until a friend of his, who casts all his bronze, paid him a visit, encouraging him to lean towards marble. “What marble gives to the forms is a completely different sensitivity,” explains Murray. Giving off a translucent vibe, the material animates the forms in a way Murray found himself appreciating. “I’ve never understood contemporary artist’s attraction to marble. Using it felt like a hierarchical wank. But once I let go of that, I saw the kindness it generated in my forms. Even though this body of work isn’t made exclusively out of marble, it made me realise that I could follow a more vulnerable path.”