FAB Gallery exhibit Patterns Within challenges how we interpret nature

MFA candidate Kathleen Murray’s art blends acrylic painting and woodcarving inspired by the landscapes of Algoma, Ontario

Erik Einsiedel - 15 October 2020

For artist Kathleen Murray, the district of Algoma in Northern Ontario is a magical place that inspired the pieces in her latest FAB Gallery exhibit, Patterns Within.

Situated between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, Algoma has many undisturbed wilderness spaces that are a nature lover’s dream. The landscapes are so beautiful that the famous Canadian landscape painters known as The Group of Seven would frequently visit them. In fact, Murray’s own great-grandfather organized two of their trips, and on at least one occasion painted with The Group.

Much of Murray’s childhood was spent in Algoma, and she believes it changed how she perceives and values the natural world. This shift in perspective is what she chose to represent in her exhibit, Patterns Within.

“The way we understand nature is mediated by a combination of genetics and culture,” Murray explains. “It’s an internal mediation that simplifies nature in a way that gives us comfort. It helps us navigate environments based on what matters most to our genetic survival.”

These internal mediations, and the way we translate nature in our daily lives, is the inspiration behind the exhibit’s name Patterns Within.

Murray’s choice of medium is acrylic painting, and she has honed her skills to create an impressive portfolio of photorealistic nature portraits. For Patterns Within, Murray has blended her painting talents with a new skill she only learned recently: woodcarving. FAB Gallery visitors will be treated to a mix of traditional acrylic paintings, and paintings on wood surfaces that feature intricately detailed carvings of leaves, abstract patterns and more.

“With my traditional paintings, I typically know what the end result will be, because I’ve based them on reference images I created from sketches or in Photoshop,” Murray says. “But with the wood carved pieces, I never knew what the end product would look like. It would start with a pattern, and it would form organically from there.”

Murray credits the Faculty of Arts for helping her grow as an artist by giving her access to many interdisciplinary resources.

“In my first year, I went to the zoology museum on campus and got to study different specimens of animals, their bone structures and anatomies. I visited the campus botany museum to study the look of plants, and the dinosaur lab to clean bones,” Murray says. “Those were the kinds of things that inspired me, and my supervisors really challenged me to leverage those experiences to create art.”

As Murray reflects back on those experiences, she is certain they will continue to guide her ongoing journey as an artist obsessed with Algoma and its natural wonders.

“I’ll never get rid of Algoma from my head, but it’s all those other experiences from my time here at the U of A that put me on the right path.”

Patterns Within is Kathleen’s Murray’s first solo show and her first use of pyrography (wood burning pens) along with traditional woodcarving. This exhibit is the final visual presentation for the degree of Master of Fine Arts in Painting. It is on display in FAB Gallery from October 6 - 30, 2020, with visits by appointment only. For more information, visit the official exhibition page. See more of Kathleen Murray’s art at kathleenmurray.ca.