Erie Art Museum: James McMurray: Faces and Places

Edinboro professor emeritus paints people and places from life. After decades of teaching at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, James McMurray holds the title of Professor Emeritus. He and his wife, Barbara, live in the rural hills near Cambridge Springs, surrounded by trees, ponds, and farms. This introspective exhibition features closely observed portraits of people and places: family, home, studio, and the surrounding woods.  A skilled painter who works primarily in oil on canvas, McMurray is capable of layering glaze over subtle brushwork to achieve representational illusions. He can also portray the essence of his subject en plein air, using rapid brushstrokes to carve form and capture a sense of changing light.

McMurray’s paintings tell a story of home and passing time. There are portraits of friends who have passed on, trees that have fallen, and ponds and meadows through seasonal changes. The landscapes are as lovingly rendered as the people: the cucumber tree out the window, the maple that was only a sapling when they first arrived, the red poppies that Barbara planted decades ago.

Every year around his birthday, McMurray makes a self-portrait. This annual reckoning records time passing in a variety of art media. Colors and fashions change, beards come and go, the format remains the same. In the age of the selfie, these portraits seem familiar, yet their language is like an older dialect. They reveal the thoughtful, questioning gaze of a man facing the deepening lines and graying hair of another year. They seem to state “I am here,” and, “Who am I now?”