Robert Murray is considered Canada’s foremost abstract sculptor, and has been dubbed the most important sculptor of his generation internationally.
Vancouver born Robert Murray, who trained in Saskatchewan as a landscape painter, an encounter with Barnett Newman determined a new course in his art making. Newman encouraged a number of young artists, including Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, who were mainly trained as painters to take up sculpture in the early 1960s. Murray studied under Newman in the Emma Lake Artists’ Workshop in Northern Saskatchewan in the late 1950s and had started living in New York City by 1960. At that point, Robert Murray became a “Canadian artist”, and as he tells it: “All that is necessary to become forever known as a Canadian is to step outside the country”.
Murray’s earliest sheet-metal sculptures were upright columnar configurations that were made by cutting and bending steel plate, usually in strict verticals, horizontals, and right angles or half-right angles and corners. He does not use prefabricated shapes; he even starts with a flat sheet of metal and uses an industrial roller to create a curve. In 1974 Murray’s sculptures became more freely formed than before, with “crunches” and folded edges, almost like paper. Murray was particularly innovative in his use of industrial fabrication methods to create his pieces and in his deep investigation of landscape as inspiration for abstract sculpture. His synthesis of the rich tradition of landscape painting in Canada and the exciting vision of New York abstract expressionist and color-field painters has resulted in an extraordinary and unique body of work.
Murray was awarded the Order of Canada in 2000 and received the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation Grant Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2018.