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(1948 – 1993), USA

Jesse Murry Biography

Jesse Murry was an American abstract painter, writer and poet who spent most of his life in New York.

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From North Carolina to New York

Jesse Murry was born in 1948 in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and grew up in Greenburgh, New York. He studied art and philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, and graduated with an MFA in painting at Yale University in 1986.

In the late 1970s, Murry moved to New York City's Soho district, where he was neighbours with his friend and fellow artist Tom Rubnitz. Later moving to the West Village, Murry was involved in the New York arts scene from the 1970s.

Alongside his painting practice, Murry wrote essays and critical texts and taught art history at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. He also gave artist talks and lectures, including at the New Museum's 1985 talk series, 'Artists, Critics, and Dealers: The Self, The World, and Art', where he discussed abstract painting. In 1982, Murry was invited as a guest curator at the New Museum to develop the exhibition Currents: The Reverend Howard Finster with the titular artist Finster.

Abstract Paintings

Jesse Murry's poetic landscape paintings can be seen in conversation with movements including Romanticism, lyrical abstraction and colour field painting. His influences included Romantic painters such as J.M.W. Turner, John Constable, Caspar David Friedrich and Eugène Delacroix; as well as the American modernist poet Wallace Stevens.

Using oil paint, beeswax and watercolours on a modest scale, Murry treated the painting surface as a fictional space on which to explore earthly beauty, the transience of weather patterns and spiritual re-imaginings of the landscape. Works such as Middle Passage (1989) and The Weather and the Giant of the Weather (1989) reveal the artist's admiration for Romanticism with their dramatic brushstrokes depicting dark, moody landscapes. Similarly, paintings produced shortly before the artist's death, such as Rising (1992) and Abyss (Radical Solitude) (1992), present rich, densely layered studies in colour that transcend representation.


Jesse Murry had a limited exhibiting career in his lifetime, participating mostly in group shows from 1982 to 1990. Shortly after graduating from Yale, he began exhibiting with Sharpe Gallery in New York and presented the solo exhibition Works on Paper in 1987. At the time of his death, Murry left behind numerous paintings and works on paper in his New York studio, and has gained increasing posthumous recognition.

Jesse Murry died from AIDS in January, 1993 at the age of 44.

In 2016, Murry was included in James Baldwin/Jim Brown and the Children at the Artist's Institute, New York: a group exhibition curated by Hilton Als that included lesser-known gay Black artists, including composer Julius Eastman and writer Gary Fisher, whom Als viewed as the 'children' of Baldwin.

In 2019, Tibor de Nagy in New York presented Radical Solitude, the first solo exhibition of Jesse Murry's work since his death. Curated by friend of the artist Clay Hapaz, the exhibition included 13 paintings and works on paper produced from the late 1980s to early 1990s.

In New York in 2021, David Zwirner presented Jesse Murry: Rising as part of the 'More Life' exhibition series across New York and London, honouring artists who lost their lives in the HIV/AIDS epidemic and who have typically been overlooked in the wider cultural and art-historical discourse.

Misong Kim | Ocula | 2021

Jesse Murry holding one of John Constable's brushes (1991) (detail). Courtesy David Zwirner. Photo: Richard Constable.

Jesse Murry Current Exhibitions

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