Boston-based artist Ethan Murrow creates paintings, graphite drawings, and largescale murals depicting admirable figures entrenched in lush landscapes, oftentimes fighting the elements or testing out curious contraptions. His latest body of work, The Riparian Lovers, focuses inward to the Vermont farms of Murrow’s youth, where his playful characters find themselves appreciating agricultural systems, wetlands, and the general fragility of nature through a delicate veneer of magical realism.
There is a procedural aspect to Murrow’s work that starts with the conception of scenarios and poses that are eventually acted out and photographed. Working alongside photographers and assistants, Murrow builds props and wardrobes to enact scenes of flower-headed canoers, artwork-dangling daredevils, and rope-swinging enthusiasts. Murrow likens this part of the process to filmmaking, where set and costume design are the first necessary steps towards an immersive end product.
“Often this photography is developed in my studio, but for the Seattle show I was able to develop much of this imagery on my family’s farm in Vermont, diving into streams, digging holes in fields and generally getting as close to the earth as I could. For this shoot, my wife, the artist Vita Murrow also helped and acted as a kind of director, which was wonderful since I first began this work in collaboration with her, years ago when we lived in Seattle. These photo shoots are wildly playful, joyous occasions and always a reminder of how collaborative work is one of the richest places an artist can live in.” — Ethan Murrow
Once the source images are completed, Murrow creates digital mockups incorporating additional elements and landscapes that become templates for the final drawings and paintings. The resulting compositions tend to evoke the Hudson River School in their bombastic, sublime magnitude.
“These images are often rooted in art history, particularly landscape painting, and they help me build larger conversations with problematic and complicated parts of our past depictions and manipulations of the world around us.” — Ethan Murrow
The mockups then become reference points for the intensive process of drawing and painting.
“Using print outs the drawings are slowly built layer by layer. With the black and white work this means careful attention to value and ambience. With the color this often demands constant attention to relationships within the palette.” – Ethan Murrow
The graphite drawings are meticulously stratified onto paper, while the paintings are done in layers of high flow acrylic that retain the pushpin accuracy of pencilwork.
The completed works directly reference the initial photographs, but contain overflowing ripples of surrealist whimsy that recall the early inventive days of cinema. The Riparian Lovers further elevates Murrow’s fascination with the delightfully absurd and the severity of nature that constantly surrounds us.