I met Jonathan Murray one of the first nights of freshman year welcome week. As I sat in a circle on the quad, talking to strangers and pretending I wasn’t scared shitless, he wandered over and sat on the grass. He seemed completely comfortable in his own skin, effortless conversing and inciting roars of laughter.
As I got to know him better, it was revealed that he was amazing artist. What he presented to me as “sketches” seemed like intricate pieces of art. I had never seen anything like it before. He and his art were completely and freely unique.
(Note: Click on photos to expand and bask in their full beauty.)
As welcome week friends often do, we drifted apart. However, I continued following Jonathan’s art. As time has gone on, he has shifted his style, creating works of art even more unusual and inspired. In an effort to understand his work better, I sat down with him this past Sunday.
After wandering through the halls of my confusing apartment building, Jonathan managed to find my unit, a impressive feat considering how many delivery-services have failed this test. As he sat down, I immediately asked him about his major. When I first met him, he was a business major, which pained me when I considered what a talented artist he was. Jonathan laughed, “I am now a graphic design major.” I was relieved.
To loosen up, we started with a series of “would-you-rather” style questions. When my roommate Harper presented the choice of sleeping with OJ Simpson or Mel Gibson, Jonathan confidently chose a 90s OJ. “90s OJ Simpson killed someone,” he responded, “that’s hot as fuck.”
When posed with the question of having a penis for every vertebrae of his spine, or penises for every strand of his hair (Harper is a strange woman), the answer became more intricate. “Well could I put all my penis hairs into a ponytail and then just have like a normal looking penis coming out of my head? I’m gonna go with hair…you could just wear a hat!”
With that, it seemed we were ready to talk about Jonathan’s art.
We began talking about how Jonathan got started with his art. He talked about drawing when he was younger; how he loved creating patterns. However, there was a long period of time where he wasn’t creating art. Then, he explained, “going into senior year of high school I was given a notebook…and that was it.” As Jonathan began creating art again, and with no formal training, his unique style began to form.
He described this shift in technique: “I had a style previously which was just a bunch of borrowed styles, lots of pen illustrations,” he explained. “I really liked Victorian era pen illustrations. So I tried emulating that with things that I thought were pretty, like swirls or flowers. But then I began to get more and more abstract, and I almost found confirmation in the idea that it doesn’t have to have a subject to be good. And since then I just took like a huge leap.”
Jonathan explained that he began experimenting with more abstract techniques after taking an art history class. “Some of my more tangible stuff was made before I learned about abstract art,” he clarified. “and then my recent stuff is the post…after abstract art.”
What do we call this?
After exclaiming multiple times that I have never seen art quite like his before, I asked Jonathan how exactly he would describe his style. He struggled to come up with a term, “I guess like illustrative abstract art that’s detailed but also new, because I’m trying to do stuff with gifs and music and digital art. So i guess like if I were to come up with a term [it would be] new-wave abstract illustration.”
He then shared his portfolio with me. And, as I looked through it, a portrait of a woman caught my eye.
Jonathan explained that this was completed for a class project. “That’s a Syrian flag blended into a Syrian woman,” He said.
As the conversation winded down, and after a riveting talk about The Berenstain Bears, I couldn’t help but ask the question normally reserved for college students at Thanksgiving dinner: “What are you going to do, career-wise?”
“End game dream would be to wear a lot of pattern and cloth and live in Japan and direct anime movies,” he laughed and thought for a moment. “But, I guess I would like to do more animation, get better at art, try to be an animator for Adult Swim, do free-lance graphic design…” The list went on.
For now, Jonathan is just working on small projects. Portraits of friends, assignments for graphic design classes, and what could only be described as passion-projects. My roommates and I are currently begging him to draw a portrait of us, so keep your fingers crossed.