J. B. Murray

J.B. MURRAY (born 1908 in Sandersville, Georgia; died 1988 in Sandersville, Georgia) John Bunion (“J.B.”) Murray (often spelled “Murry”) was born in 1908 in a remote community in Glascock County in central Georgia. He worked as a tenant farmer in a small shack with his wife and eleven children. When he was in his fifties his wife left him, and with his children already grown and gone, he found himself alone in a very remote area. It wasn’t until years later in the late 1970s, that Murray began his artistic career. Murray suffered from hallucinations, which for a brief time caused him to be institutionalized.


He was also fervently religious and inherently distrustful of those who did not believe in God—he felt that evil spirits inhabited the world, spirits that could be destructive to those who were not watchful. These factors may have been the impetus for his original creations. He started out creating different structures and protective devices designed to shield himself from the dangers of the outside world. These pieces most likely began as small mysterious piles of rocks and other found materials that could be seen scattered across his property. As time went on, he moved toward drawing and painting. Everything that went into these pieces, from the colors used to the materials they were painted on, had a specific message and meaning for Murray. For example, in Murray’s system of colors, red represented torment or evil forces, blue represented positive strength and good, yellow indicated a divine presence, or energy embodied by the sun. White represented otherworldliness and spiritual purity relating to death or the afterlife, and black denoted imperfection or impurity. Frequently Murray would paint out spiritual forms that he visualized existing in the world, sometimes opposing one another, sometimes existing in harmony. The pieces would frequently incorporate an illegible calligraphic script.


Murray received very little formal education and was most likely illiterate, but following a vision in 1978, he began to formulate his own cursive script which he alone was able to decipher. He kept a bottle of what he called “holy water” on a table beside his bed which he often would raise skyward in prayer. Murray believed that reading the script while looking through this clear vial would produce “readings” or holy messages. In the early 80’s, Murray was diagnosed with prostate cancer, an illness that further influenced his artistic temperaments. After years battling this condition, it finally took his life in 1988. Cavin-Morris is proud to be able to show and study the prolific collection of work that he left behind.


Information compiled from the essay “J.B. Murray” by Randall Morris

j. b. murray, asemic writing