Craig Murray-Orr was born in 1942 in Lower Hutt on the southern edge of New Zealand's North Island and studied at the Ilam School of Fine Art in Christchurch in the early 1960s. In 1968 he came to London and a few years later found himself arriving on a blind date at a house in Dartmouth Park on the edge of Hampstead Heath. He has been there ever since. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1973 and aside from his work as a painter and sculptor he is best known for his radio collaborations in the 1990s with the Scottish poet and humorist Ivor Cutler.
Murray-Orr is known for his meticulously-crafted sculptural works and his intense small-scale paintings. Murray-Orr’s tiny paintings are postcard-sized panels of colour, tone, and fastidious mark-making. At first glance they appear to be made with a fluid, almost casual ease - and yet on closer inspection reveal themselves as inched into existence, with every tiny touch of paint carefully composed. It’s a process that depends on intuition rather than intellect, discovery rather than design, faith rather than logic. They are landscape paintings, or at least they take the form of landscape, but only in as much as their language depicts apparently familiar features of the natural world - a hill, a horizon, a cloud - but these are the tools of topography used to explore and express an emotional or mental state, rather than to define any geographically specific location. They are tiny poems.
The common thread with all Murray-Orr's work is an interest in the landscape. Pared down hunting rifles, each carved from a single piece of mahogany, faces from chair seats and sinuous body forms from a discarded crutch and a bentwood chair frame; These curiously anthropomorphic and deeply characterful objects appear to inhabit a very different world from the paintings and yet seem connected by a sense of memory, personality and a loving touch. It’s from this place of emotional intimacy that Murray-Orr’s quietly assertive works emerge from the edge of abstraction.
His watercolours, also presented at a solo exhibition at Ingleby Gallery in the Spring of 2011, combine velvet blacks, deep purples, rich ochres, greys and greens to form vistas reminiscent of desert or lunar landscapes. These paintings are never geographically specific but instead are a mix of childhood memories and recent travels in Asia and North Africa. These imagined landscapes share the same reductive quality as Murray-Orr's mahogany sculptures - spare, precise and deeply evocative.
Ingleby Gallery presented a major solo exhibition, Thirty Small Paintings, in 2015, and will present another major solo exhibition, New paintings and old sculpture, at Cromwell Place, London, in Autumn 2022.