Ethan Murrow Reviewed in The Grand Rapids Press

Ethan Murrow’s large-scale images on display at Kendall College

By: Molly Kimelman | The Grand Rapids Press
April 03, 2010, 5:56AM

GRAND RAPIDS — Is that a photograph or a drawing?

You might find yourself asking this question about each of Ethan Murrow’s large-scale images on view through April 21 at Kendall College of Art and Design.

Ethan Murrow’s “Barnum Was Constantly Making Ill-advised Improvements  to the Arctic Re-Projector” is graphite on paper (2007)

Ethan Murrow’s “Barnum Was Constantly Making Ill-advised Improvements to the Arctic Re-Projector” is graphite on paper (2007).

Let’s clear up any uncertainties now: Murrow’s photo-realistic, narrative images are graphite drawings of obsessed explorers and their ill-fated inventions. They aim to reference historical documents and black-and-white photography. The overall focus of the work is taking childhood pursuits and interests and transforming them into adult fascinations and projects, according to the artist.

“The characters in recent narratives have been consistently averse to criticism and assistance,” Murrow said. “These figures, mostly male, are doomed to failure and prone to dysfunction. These are cautionary tales, cynical nods to the pitfalls of egotism and obsessive drive.”

“His visit will be an exceptional opportunity for the drawing and printmaking students to inquire about his practice and ask questions about being a fine art drawer and about his schooling, career and gallery exhibiting,” said Michele Bosak, assistant director of exhibitions at Kendall College. “His work explores space, shows use of perspective and guides you through an elusive, nostalgic narrative. While it is inventive, it also acknowledges classical traditions.”

Murrow’s work involves multiple disciplines on many different layers.

“This process began when my wife, Vita Weinstein Murrow, began filming, photographing and directing me in performances in 2004. Since then we have often worked as a duo, making short videos together. The still imagery we collect forms the source material for large-scale graphite drawings that are obsessive documents of infatuated characters,” he explained in his artist’s statement.

The drawings are pieces of larger series, each series unraveling tales of doomed inventors damaged by pride. Murrow’s fictional characters are whale watchers, aerial dreamers and more. The artist, who received his bachelor’s degree from Carleton College and his master’s degree from the University of North Carolina, claims his characters are self-portraits.

“Since I often play the central character in these dramas, I intentionally implicate myself in the conflagration that the protagonists create around themselves. I mean to do this with a nod to Charlie Chaplain, who understood that idiocy is inevitable and our own role in it is assured,” he said.

Murrow is a faculty member at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and serves as the Dayton Hudson Distinguished Visiting Artist and Teacher this year at Carleton College. His exhibition at Kendall College is one of several this year.

Besides drawings, the Kendall exhibition also will feature the short film “Dust,” created in collaboration with the artist’s wife and Harvest Films of Santa Monica, Calif. “Dust” was an official selection of the 46th annual New York Film Festival in 2008.