I sculpt my paintings. I apply paint on a blank canvas and move it around to let it drip, and then rotate the canvas to let it drip even more. Paint creating its own motion. I scrape some away and add some more. Textured layers begin to grow on top of textured layers. Every inch of the canvas becomes a world in need of exploration. And then I see something that surprises me. Maybe it’s something familiar, like a memory resurfacing or a line of music hidden in the shape.
(b. Idaho Falls, Idaho, 1953)
Lives and works in South Jordan, Utah
BS in Zoology, Brigham Young University, 1980
16 years in the Pharmaceutical Industry, Houston, Texas
Seven years in Secondary Education, Texas, California, Washington DC
- Two Month Exhibit at The Performing Art Center, Big Bear Lake, California (2004)
- “Celebrating The Human Form” Fables Gallery Of Fine Art, Salt Lake City, Utah (2002)
- Houston Studios Art Show (November 2001)
- The Laura Agrons Private Showing, Houston, Texas (August 2001)
- University Of Houston Clear Lake Art Show (2000)
- Houston Community College Art Show (1999)
-Gallery 39, Provo, Utah (2010-present)
-Outback Gallery, Alpine, Wyoming (2009-present)
-Repartee Gallery at Riverwoods, Provo, Utah (2002-2009)
-The Gallery, Big Bear Lake, California (2003-2005)
-The Artery Gallery, Houston, Texas (1999- 2002)
A Brief Endorsement of Alan McMurtrey, by Paula Coomer, poet, essayist, and fiction writer; Author of Road (2006), Devil at the Crossroads (2006), Summer of Government Cheese (2007), and Dove Creek (audio, 2009)
Some artists are moved to express themselves because of early life pain or to release the pressure from a seething private inner cauldron or because they are romantically involved with paint and canvas. The impetus for Alan McMurtrey's work falls into none of these stereotypical paradigms. McMurtrey is anything but stereotypical; he is his own paradigm shift. Look at any of his paintings, and it becomes immediately clear that he is painting because he knows something the rest of us suspect but are not certain of: that there is hope and new life and an eventual end to whatever is paining us; that there is more redemption in the physical movement of the body than in anything else; and that the world changes when you understand it as color entwined with texture. He manages to translates our quiet, primal suspicions into certainties. The spare hopefulness of his landscapes give us a glimpse of an artist who has earned this right, who has journeyed far to find his worth, carrying the burden of that worth with him the entire time, and one who knows what it is to step from a long, hot trek in the desert onto the paved road to home. This knowledge is not something McMurtrey feels compelled to express. He does it because he must rid his body of one parcel of awareness to make room for the next surge, as if he is being fed a steady diet of it from the cosmos. McMurtrey paints as if he has never spoken a word, yet each painting is a breathtaking oration.
InnerLooper MAGAZINE, May 2002 (Houston, Texas)
"Houston Artist Alan McMurtrey Living his Dreams," by Keith McCafferty
We immediately pegged him as a beginner, but as we watched him over the following months, we learned that he was fearless. Whereas most of us were sticking to what we knew, Alan was experimenting, without a thought as to whether his mixed-media drawings would end up being keepers or not. He was also enjoying himself tremendously.
Alan turned out to be unusual in other ways. In 1997, he had ended his 22-year marriage and a year later his 16-year career as a pharmaceutical salesman. He had made the decision to live off of his savings and devote his life to something satisfying.
“I didn’t leave to become an artist,” he says, “It was just time for a change. I was thinking perhaps of going back into education (he was once a science teacher in Tomball). I always enjoyed English literature. I thought maybe to get back into school and become an English professor, you know, follow in the steps of C.S. Lewis. Then a good friend of mine happened to see some of my sketches and said I ought to become a professional artist full-time. So I took some of my early sketches around to some universities.”
“In 1999, Alan spent a year studying art at Houston Community College, but after two semesters, he decided that a degree was not what he needed. He just needed to get a big canvas and paint it. And that’s what he’s been doing ever since, at Houston Studios in downtown’s warehouse district.
When I talked with Alan about his work, I was surprised at how much he spoke of “struggle” and “forces in conflict”. I’ve always found his 4-to-6-foot canvases to be very serene and tranquil, with their carefully chosen colors and giant brush strokes that can each consume an entire tube of paint.
“I want to have something on there that you can really chew on,” he says. “It’s like a battle that’s taken place on the canvass somehow. Those things that are most rewarding or worth looking at are those that have had a struggle. To me, those are the most interesting things in life. I’m not just trying to paint a pretty picture.”
Life is imitating art for Alan in that making ends meet has been a struggle. But last year, he sold 10 canvases and did a 7-foot tall commission piece, and he is making arrangements for some showings here at home and in Utah. I have seen him go from beginner to professional in only four short years.
But most remarkably, Alan has done what most people only sit and dream about. He has reinvented himself and made his life into a daily joy.
“Everything I’ve done has come from inside,” he says. “I’m very happy with what I’m doing now. Very happy.”