Heather Murray is a Chatsworth, Ontario, mixed media artist who is inspired and driven to create. She exhibits, sells locally and internationally and her work is in collections worldwide.
A simpler world is her vision. A world where good hearts rule. She cuts pastes, paints and assembles what moves her and captures her attention. Collage and assemblage bring out the inner scavenger in her, and she savors discarded finds and utilizes found objects in new enticing ways. Her roots stem from an editorial illustration background. She continues to experiment and works out of her home studio in Chatsworth.
She graduated from the Ontario College of Art in Toronto in the 1970s and became enamored with illustrative art as a response to the world around her. This has influenced her style and creative intent as she approaches her art with the eye of a storyteller. Heather’s paintings are a hybrid of past and present and her reverence for old photos in her work is a vehicle for giving new life to old imagery. Nostalgia, memory, loss, hope and a sentimental vantage point help her create a story with paint, scissors and canvas.
Her art has evolved from working in high realism as a painter to using found elements in her work to tell a story. She lives with a variety of creatures who often play a part as her muses. She also offers workshops on her process and continually searches for ways to encourage other artists to grow. Her art can be found in collections internationally as well as in her online Etsy store.
Why an artist?
That is a really easy question because it has been lifelong. Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a pen or crayon in my hand, and it was something I hoped I could have as a career but didn’t for many years.
I know art really gives back a lot, not only does it allow me to feel good about what I’m making but it’s really interesting to see it reflected back from people and their response to my work. My work itself has changed over the years depending on my energy levels, whether I’m an active parent or not.
I guess the serious evolution happened when I started out at Ontario College of Art (now Ontario College of Art & Design University) where I realized I was concentrating on something that I really enjoyed, and I needed to take it more seriously and commit myself to it – that had its ups and downs. I was trying to look for a commercial angle in the hopes I could support myself because that was the goal. As much as I love art, I have to make it work for me. At the time I was going to school, it had a different mandate. It was sort of more loosey-goosey; it was the post-hippy era at OCA so there was a little bit of seriousness but not a lot of guidance in terms of careers. It was more about technique and how to present your work.
I graduated in 1978 with a degree in Communication Design with a specialty in editorial illustration. They thought you could do record covers, book covers and other publications. When I left the school, I didn’t really feel that I was totally equipped, and, honestly, I was too young at 21. I took my portfolio around to larger advertising agency for interviews, but I wasn’t very successful, and I was shy which didn’t really help. I did get little jobs here and there. I did the typical route of going to work in restaurants, thinking I would do that as well as doing my art, but I was usually too exhausted to do art after working a restaurant shift. I was a frustrated artist at that time, and I committed myself to just draw or paint for myself and my friends. I was still in my twenties. Then I worked at the Toronto Sun newspaper in the syndicated department (ie – advertising stories from other newspapers that needed illustration or a promo piece for a new writer or cartoonist). But it wasn’t really gratifying in a personal way of working, doing my art or the right work environment.
I made a living at the Sun, but I was discouraged that I wasn’t doing what I had intended to do. So like a lot of other people, I went on another path for a while. I always painted in the background and I found it very satisfying but I didn’t really try after that, I decided it was going to be too hard to create a career for myself out of art. I did all the things that young people often do; I went travelling around the world, over to Europe, came back and tried to get some serious work and ended up going into social work as my profession and really loved it. It wasn’t a problem for me to do that, but art was on the back burner and then I brought it around again through the work I did. I was working for a youth outreach program in downtown Toronto interacting with street youth and there was lots of money for AIDS education. We put together information for street folks including comic books on how to stay safe. That was really an exciting project to be involved in, designing buttons and things like condom covers that were out of the ordinary but were fun. It felt essential and that was a nice use of my work.
In later years as a single parent there wasn’t a lot of time for art and full-time work. I went through a period when I was making puppets and had my own puppet theatre business because I wanted to connect with where my three-year old daughter was at the time and the magic of that was very appealing. So, I created papier-mache animal puppets and did performances. I did a lot of things that were out of my comfort zone, but it satisfied my creative side and, I become buoyed by that again – that was really exciting.
I discovered mixed media and collage; that was something I could do quickly while being a parent as well and using small spaces in my house to work in. I had a few shows and started to actively look for shows and galleries in Toronto to participate in. I joined the Parkdale Village Arts Collective. They were very open to having a show at their small gallery called Cell Gallery. I had two shows there, that really buoyed my confidence and made me realize I wanted to keep pursuing art.
I hadn’t really studied mixed media in my art background but I was really enjoying it. In 2003 when we moved to Owen Sound, I integrated my painting practise with collage work, using old photograph imagery incorporated into my painting and making large portraits. I really got a kick out of it and was getting a good response locally as well as online. So that has been the mainstay of my work for many years now.
I moved to Owen Sound because my childhood summers at Sauble Beach held very fond memories for me. I saw possible employment in the social work field and there was a really good arts community, gallery and library. I think what really helped me connect with the local art community was the booth I had the Owen Sound Farmers Market the first year I was here, I was making all kinds of different things like wall hangings and cigar boxes which I hadn’t made before but created a way to interact and met the local community. I also joined Arts Town when we first moved here which gave me connections with local artists.
Words and photos by Willy Waterton