TIM MURTON: PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST
PHOTOS & STORY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘I’m naturally inclined to be an artist,’ Tim remarks, pulling on the cigarette that hangs loosely from the corner of his mouth. ‘Everything else,’ he sighs, ‘is just effort.’
It’s late September. A sunny Tuesday afternoon. Elora-based mixed media artist Tim Murton and I are standing on the deck of his backyard studio. Somewhere near our feet a cicada punctuates the air. Above our heads birds chatter on a wire. A few feet to our left sits Tim’s idyllic century home, tucked a couple streets back from Elora’s main drag. And directly behind us lies his spacious studio – a substantial single-room standalone building with large windows, skylights, and a cathedral ceiling. The centre of Tim’s creative universe.
When we move from the deck into the studio through a pair of sliding glass doors, we enter a space stripped down to bare essentials, single-minded in design and purpose: to facilitate art-making. Canvases – both finished and unfinished – lean stacked against bare white walls. Paint tubes and brushes are everywhere. Bins of wood and screws and other materials are amassed on shelving units. I count at least a half dozen pairs of broken eyeglasses – on tables and windowsills and in open drawers. An overflowing ashtray and a gaggle of Elora Brewing empties huddle on the paint- splattered floor. A loose bag of weed rests on a windowsill. And a worn green leather sofa claims the far corner. ‘It doubles as my bed,’ the artist chuckles. ‘During the day. At night. Whenever I find time to shut my eyes between work.’ Something that’s been a real challenge these past few weeks. But more on that later.
A large canvas mounted on a sturdy wooden easel dominates the studio’s middle space. The still unfinished piece – executed in black- and-white ‘with charcoal and primer,’ Tim tells me – seems at first glance to depict an enraptured audience watching the whirling action of a boxing match inside a ring. Upon closer inspection, though, I see that the painting portrays something more sinister. The spectators’ faces are contorted – as though in agony. Mouths agape and eyes bulging, they recall medieval artistic representations of sinners in purgatory. Suffering. Distressed. Pained as they witness whatever’s going on. I can see now that this is not a boxing match. And the whirling shapes are ghost-like. The frenetic energy the piece exudes is palpable, disturbing.
‘It leaves me feeling uneasy,’ I remark to Tim. ‘Good,’ he replies, ‘then you’ve connected with it.’ Or, more precisely, with them. Those tortured souls who, I come to realize, occupy so many of Tim’s pieces. ‘I find myself birthing them over and again,’ Tim tells me. ‘They’re a commentary on how we’ve been conditioned to value things like material gain and commercial success and instant gratification over everything else. And on how our relentless attempts to attain these things leads to lives filled with isolation and depression, greed and anxiety, gossip and envy.’ He adds: ‘We’re all participating in this vast and unfathomable miracle called life – yet our minds have been hijacked by corporate conditioning.’
I walk from one side of Tim’s studio to the other and gaze out one of the large windows overlooking his back yard. I spot what seems to be a substantial hole in the middle of Tim’s garden that’s been reinforced with large rocks and topped with a wooden frame. ‘It’s a sunken greenhouse,’ Tim remarks, ‘one of my ongoing projects.’ I nod, and note several other unfinished ventures around the spacious yard. A hand-dug fish pond on the far side of the studio deck. (‘To sit in and keep cool while the fish nibble at me during those hot summer days,’ he says.) A twelve-or-so- foot-high art installation in metal that looks like an incomplete staircase reaching into the sky. (‘It’s supposed to represent life,’ Tim tells me. ‘We’re always climbing, and always working, yet never finished.’) And more ongoing projects dotting the backyard space.
I turn back to the studio where I see so many more paintings – stacked one behind the other. ‘I’m gathering them together for an upcoming solo show,’ Tim remarks. An exhibit that runs until November 17th at the Minarovich Gallery in the Elora Centre for the Arts. An exhibit for which Tim has been working day and night for several weeks now.
Titled ‘The Air Conditioned Nightmare,’ the show is comprised of a decade of Tim’s work. Work that speaks to his thesis that our social conditioning is leading us to live, in his words, ‘unnatural lives.’ Those tortured souls I saw executed on the canvas in Tim’s studio are evident in virtually every one of the paintings stacked here. Isolated folks living behind glass in condominium towers. Seemingly- possessed individuals around board – and dinner – tables. Faceless crowds making their way to work in faceless skyscrapers. ‘I used to work in the corporate world,’ Tim tells me (he served as a scene artist on major motion picture sets for over two decades), ‘and it almost drove me to madness.’ He pauses before adding with a grin: ‘It certainly drove me to drink.’ And it drove him to this career – as a free-thinking, free-willed creative. ‘I’m exactly where I want to be,’ he asserts. ‘Exactly where I need to be.’
I survey Tim’s kingdom. His splendid, comfortable century home. His dishevelled, functional, productive backyard studio. Those audacious paintings. And all the other projects-in-process that somehow both please him and don’t demand to be finished. And I understand that he means what he says.