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Artist Ethan Murrow creates big, keeps it simple

By Judy Hamilton
Kenny Kemp
Ethan Murrow works on an exhibit called "Jefferson's Raft," made of recycled wood. The public was invited to watch him at work last week at the Clay Center.
Kenny Kemp
Ethan Murrow is known for his self-portraits set in adventurous locales. This one done in ballpoint ink is among the works in his show at the Clay Center.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ethan Murrow, an internationally acclaimed artist from Boston, and the Clay Center are thinking big, really big, in the solo exhibition that opened Aug. 17, following the three-day installation of "Wall Drawing Part I" by the artist.Visitors were provided the rare and unique experience of seeing an artist as he composed and drew the first phase of his large-scale wall drawings. Murrow described the process as being developed "so people will see a progression and interact with me during the show." In preparing for the exhibit, he said he looked forward to a discussion, especially with kids.So, he chose basic materials. The three 8- by 10-foot wall drawings are ballpoint pen on wall paint. Murrow said that he wanted to "keep things as simple as possible so if people bump into it, not a big deal."The exhibit examines land, places and people from an aerial perspective. It features graphite and wall drawings, along with videos installed in small architectural settings including frames and ocular devices.In addition, Murrow constructed a sculptural piece designed for the Clay Center titled "Jefferson's Raft" with a nod toward the complicated third U.S. president. The artist conceived the piece after his first airplane flight over West Virginia. The boatlike sculpture has a sort of patchwork floor made from repurposed wood from factories in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Murrow describes the piece as "intended to look a little bit wonky ... to be an intimate piece. I want people to get close."Murrow said his profession has a lot of alone work, so he finds it exciting to have a chance to make work for the public. He said he is "happiest when someone grins or argues about my work." And, he added, he doesn't have to actually be there to feel the enjoyment he knows is created by his art.The exhibit continues with "Wall Drawing Part II," which will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 23-25. Although Murrow describes the "Part I" drawings as being "full and good and finished," he will return to the Clay Center to expand and to change the nature of the drawings by adding human elements to the aerial-view landscapes.He said the process is a new experience for him. "It will be an interesting challenge to figure out how to stagger things," he said. Visitors are invited to see the artist at work again as he composes and draws.
At 5 p.m. Oct. 26, patrons may watch Murrow's short film "Dust" and a collection of his video works created over an eight-year period in collaboration with his wife, Vita Weinstein Murrow. The film screening will take place in the ElectricSky Theater. It will be the first public showing of the film collection.An official selection of the 2008 New York Film Festival, "Dust" focuses "on an environment of limited possibility and the potential for humans to go forward despite that fact," Murrow said. There will be a reception afterward in the art gallery to view his completed wall drawings.At the end of the show Jan. 5, the wall drawings by Murrow will be painted over -- something some art lovers will find disturbing. Murrow, however, describes art as having an infinite life, making it "important to talk about invention."He believes the most important thing about art is to have a conversation about it. With this exhibit, he believes it is the beginning of a conversation -- one that he hopes Charlestonians and West Virginians will be talking about for a long time.Murrow is a faculty member teaching painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His work is in many collections worldwide including the Guggenheim Foundation, New York.A free public lecture by art historian Ruth Erickson and Clay Center Curator of Art Arif Khan will take place at 6 p.m. Sept. 12. The pair will discuss the ideas and processes presented in the exhibit.Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, One Clay Square, Charleston;, 304-561-3570. "Smart Pass" (includes galleries, film and planetarium) $14.50 adults and $12 children, teachers and senior citizens; Galleries only $7.50 adults and $6 children, teachers and seniors. Members get free unlimited access to galleries and planetarium shows, as well as discounts on films.
Reach Judy Hamilton at or 304-348-1230.
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