“I find life kinda boring if I don’t have my art to do, it makes me depressed so I kind of have to do it. It’s the sense of accomplishment too. I can go to work all day but I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished something. But when I do a painting I feel ‘Ahh..’ and when I finish I could pat myself on the back and say ‘Good job, man!’”
Growing up, Nat Murray toyed with the idea of being a spy. This was before finally resigning to the fact that he was probably better suited for the arts. After graduating from art school back home in Nova Scotia, unsurprisingly, he found it hard to find a job. That’s when the call of living in Asia made sense. Now over a decade later, he is still here living with his girlfriend and their lovely cat, Gabby. He mentions ‘inertia’ as one of the reasons why he stayed in Taiwan. He doesn’t like the weather in Taiwan like everyone else, but finds the landscape to be ‘real cool’ – a mix of urban decay and lush hills.
What was the most recent thing that gave you inspiration to create?
I guess working in the school and observing the day to day activities. The thing is my inspiration comes when I see something and I mull over it for a while; sort of creating my own inspiration. I don’t paint from life – things get filtered and altered through me. But as for my latest painting, it’s about this guy looking for a job in a kindergarten teaching English and he’s in his interview. He’s like ‘Yeah, rock on!’ He might get the job, he might not [Laughs].
For you, what is the hardest part of painting?
Just dealing with the material, because it’s so oily and messy and you have to wait for it to dry just to the right amount. Sometimes you don’t want it dry, you still want it wet so you have to have your timing down. Uhm.. what else is hard about painting? [Pause] When you start painting something and you realise you don’t like it but you feel like you have to continue it anyway. That’s kinda hard. When your heart’s not in it. I also find it hard to focus on one painting so I kind of do the ‘shotgun approach’ where i’ll start 4 or 5, 6 different paintings at the same time. Maybe one will be fun today but then I’ll paint it too much then it’s not fun anymore so I have to pick up the next one. This way I don’t feel pressured to finish.
Tell us about your interestingly vibrant style and how you developed it?
I’ve always used bright colours. I’ve never been like a drab painter. That’s the thing about painting it’s just pure colour. But I’m drawn to green I think because of the landscape in Taiwan. It’s a neutral colour, it’s kinda cool. Before doing this ‘realism’ of sorts, my style was this abstract landscape stuff. But I felt like it didn’t capture humour or people’s lives. So I started using photos. I went through this brief period of realistic painting. I would project my projector onto the canvas and get an accurate drawing but it didn’t look good so then I just said ‘fuck it,’ lets make it funny. There’s this painting movement in the States called ‘casualism’; it’s pretty popular. Maybe it sort of rubbed off on me a little bit – being more nonchalant. So yeah I don’t use photographs or anything anymore; it’s all drawing from my head.
What’s your usual mood when you paint?
Pretty happy. I’m not a tortured artist. But I treat it like a job – I don’t wait to be happy or inspired. So yeah, the usual is I get up in the morning, have a coffee, and do 2-3 hours of this or that. It’s not always fun; sometimes I’m swearing, I’m cursing – ‘Fuck, I just can’t get it right.’ But definitely after I do a good work, it makes me happy.
A lot of the themes you put on your canvas is directly associable to the island but I was wondering if there are works that have a more personal affinity to you. Are there any?
Sure I can show you.. This one I painted after my grandfather passed away; that’s him. So it’s a bit more personal. This one’s kinda personal, it’s my girlfriend and my cat but its actually a copy of a Kirchner painting. And then there’s these two paintings, it’s of me and my girlfriend. Both of us are in a construction site, I see a messy construction site and she sees an organised one.
Also, I observed that there quite a few half-naked or naked people in your pieces. Any reasons to this?
Maybe it’s kind of a vulnerable thing, you know, being stripped away of clothes.
What is harder to paint – something fictitious or something realistic – and why?
I think it’s harder to paint something fictitious because painting from real life is pretty easy. It’s right there, you just need to copy it so…
When you finish a piece what’s the first thing you think about or do?
When it’s finished, usually it’s not finished. When I think it’s finished, it’s not quite finished. I’ll take it out, I’ll put it on the wall, I’ll photograph it and I’ll show it to my friends. And then the next week I’ll be like ‘Uh, I kinda fucked up, I should change that.” But when it’s actually finished, when I think about it, I kinda stop thinking about it and be like ‘Okay, it is done. On to the next thing!’
To close this off, after your ‘BuXiBan’ series has run its course, what’s next?
I would like to maybe get a bit more into ‘Abstraction’ because I feel like I have too much illustrations now; it’s kind of trapping me in a box. So I think the next way would be more of that.. but I’m stuck with this format where I need to work on small things because of the size limitations here and usually an abstract painting has to be huge… so we’ll see what happens, maybe I’ll make really small abstract paintings.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIA KAO