When 54-year-old Ian Murray was growing up in Liverpool, the Beatles’ hometown was a graveyard of industrial decay, “especially around the docks,” recalls the graphic artist and illustrator. “I liked exploring those liminal spaces that have been abandoned or don’t belong to anyone.” There was something about silent, vacant buildings, dilapidated wharfs, rusted steel and broken windows that spoke to him of ephemerality and the passing of time, of the poignance of memory. The power of this affinity was confirmed years later in his readings of psychogeography – the study of the effects of places on people’s minds and emotions.
At the time Murray became a graphic designer, this sensibility resurfaced, merging with other inspirations that included a childhood love of comic books; artist idols such as Pablo Picasso, Kurt Schwitters and Jean-Michel Basquiat; the movie posters of Saul Bass; advertising imagery of midcentury master Paul Rand; and jazz and electronic music. Today his style – which makes its way into branding imagery for companies like BBC, Canon and Mercedes-Benz, but also shows up on original artworks, embroidered patches and cards that he sells on his website – has a blocky graphic quality, a wonderful sense of humor and a playful scrappiness that’s all his own.
Murray’s process is both spontaneously progressive in its layering of elements and intricate in terms of materials. “Sometimes I’ll take something old such as pages from books or magazines and paste it onto backing board,” he explains. “Then I’ll varnish it, print or draw over it. I’m not comfortable doing everything on a computer. I like to have my hands on the real thing, even though eventually it all gets scanned into the computer.”
Also fed into the computer are rubbings he makes of interesting surfaces he comes across, photos of textures, monoprints and more. These become a kind of inventory of elements that he can then manipulate digitally or manually, layering them to create a visual richness of depth and texture. “The art of it is knowing when you’re at the tipping point,” Murray admits, adding with a humble self-effacing chuckle, “Sometimes I’ve lost the plot.”
“It’s Grim Up North”
The resulting images evoke a retro sense of nostalgia. The psycho-geographic undercurrent is further enhanced by Murray’s use of papers he ages in myriad ways. “I nearly always have something buried in the ground or underwood,” he observes. “Or I’ll put paper in the oven, stain it with tea – decaffeinated works best for some reason – or I’ll wrap paper around rusty nails and submerge it in salty water.” These, too, join his image library so that, “Even if you’re layering something digitally,” he explains, “it takes on the warmth of water stains and old books.”
“Kit Kat Club”
An admirer of wabi-sabi, the Japanese aesthetic that values transience, imperfection and incompleteness in nature, Murray concludes: “What really runs through it all is the idea of being imperfect, the feeling of having a bit of grit.”