John Bunion (J.B.) Murray

"John Bunion (J.B.) Murray was a self-taught artist in Glascock County, Georgia. Murray was an illiterate sharecropper who, after a religious vision while working the fields at the age of 70, produced a remarkable body of abstract paintings in the last decade of his life. His work is now in many important collections, including that of the American Folk Art Museum and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and has been featured in many museum exhibitions, including "Self-Taught Genius" at AFAM and "When the Stars Begin to Fall" at the Studio Museum.

Murray's paintings are paradoxical in light of the limitations of his circumstances. Unable to read or write, in his pictures Murray invented a private language of notation, as if it were Adamic script from the late-20th century. While one might expect a septuagenarian sharecropper to create a style in a recognizable local vernacular, Murray's work, in its heightened color and abstract decorative quality, is comparable to modernist works with a mandarin appeal, by such artists as Paul Klee, Jean Dubuffet, and Howard Hodgkin, among others.

Seeing an eagle descend from the sun, Murray believed that he had been granted a privileged religious insight, which was to be the inspiration for his work as an artist. Murray's revelation at the age of 70, which commenced his career as a painter, gave his work a prophetic intensity, as he believed himself a medium of God.

Art historian Mary Padgelek, who wrote a book about Murray's life and works, has also written a musical about him: Visionary Man, being presented at the Hudson Mainstage Theater."

"He couldn’t read, yet J.B. Murray wrote 2 books.

He had no concept of art, yet he created almost 1,000 paintings that today are exhibited around the world. ... 'The question is, was he crazy or did something really...'"
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First Collected by

Suzan Hamer


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