"We're always in a state of becoming" – a conversation with Andy Murray

"We're always in a state of becoming" – a conversation with Andy Murray

30.11.17

Art, Design, Education, Illustration

Andy Murray is an artist, illustrator, and designer.

Andy works under the name 'Gatsby.' Which I'm intrigued by – but after a bit of research found the reasoning in a past interview which you can see here.

I met Andy way back at the first Sex, Drugs & Helvetica in Brisbane. I was completely in awe of his charisma, personality and the general vibes he put into the world.

More recently I listened to a podcast called Playing it by ear – by Kate Pullen which Andy was a guest on. This podcast was recorded sometime in the last couple of years and reminded me of those good vibes Andy put into the world. Listening to him talk painted such a clear picture of his enthusiasm for the work he was doing. Which led me to believe that someone with that much enjoyment for what he does, could only ever be happy to keep doing what he was doing.

Quoting Andy: "we're always in a state of becoming" brings me to the main point of this article. We are always in a state of becoming, yet we are so hard on ourselves for craving or needing a change.

When I was first listening to this podcast, this message went so far over my head. Looking back – I wish it didn't because that was a time when I was fighting with my own uncertainties about being a designer. Listening to this chat again, this message stuck with me like glue. It stuck with me because it was so true. We aren't going to stay the same forever and it's okay to evolve and grow.

Then I remembered a piece of writing I had recently read by Andy. Andy wrote about 'Apathy' for Word–Form. It was here I became intrigued by Andy's current headspace with being an artist. I wanted to learn more about where he's at with his relationship with his own work. His article depicted someone who was in a mental tug of war with something that was once so clear. It seemed that his relationship with his own work had evolved and taken a different course from where he was not that long ago.

I shot him an email to see if he would be kind enough to answer some fairly personal questions about his relationship with his work and art in general. If you're reading this – then he kindly obliged!

As mentioned above – from the time you recorded the podcast with Kate Pullen, to the time you wrote about apathy. Something seemed to change in your mindset towards your craft and art in general. Can you take us through how that change in mindset happened? 

We made that podcast at the start of 2016. I hadn’t made art for myself for a long time and wanted to move towards doing more solo shows. I did three in a year and a half (one was for a kids book launch.) My mindset didn’t change, but my energy levels did. I had no idea about stopping. I thought that not making art was equal to death or worse, ambivalence. Desire is not good like that: you want something, and then you want something else, and then something else. 

But no one talks about stopping. It’s the same with death. Why would we want to talk about being the opposite of vitality? It’s the same with dreams. When people talk about dreams, they never talk about the inevitable collision. The collision is when things like health or expectations or other limiting factors catch up with you. The things that make you mortal and, you know, a human. And they always get you, because they should, and they need to.

This is what a collision can teach you: 

A dream will always change in a gradual or sudden way. It is meant to change form. Maybe the end goal doesn’t, but the who, what, and how, and when, certainly will. It’s good to know this because some of us feel shame if we don’t have one dream that always shines brightly. This can create uncertainty or ambivalence which feel totally unnatural but are generally signs that some tiny part of you wants to change.

Absence of conviction (or apathy) is really just the edge of some other interesting thing happening. Instead of saying yes and, you get to ask: What if? What if I live like this? You are allowed to pay attention to something else. When you do this you can shed skin quickly. Good artist’s shed lots of skin. Look at Picasso. He changed. A lot.

Your ego loves more of everything because it means you are secure. But it means you start saying yes for the sake of saying yes. Meanwhile, your body needs rest and it will get it one way or another, so why fight it? A collision makes you ask if your yes is really an honest yes.

What sparked the decision to move out of your house, your studio and go overseas? 

I wanted radical transformation. I wanted to have no plan and be in a place where I could barely speak the language and just sit with that. Also, I achieved everything I wanted to do in that period of time. It was time for a reset. If I didn’t I’d just take it all for granted: that can always be a problem when you stay in a place for too long.  

Did you have any expectations of going overseas? If so – did any live up to the standard you had envisioned? 

I started in Sicily. I had this idea about exotica, lavish food, and wine and romance. Some of that happened but I was also on the bus a lot, or trying to find shade, or losing something. I made it into a dream but the reality was much more interesting. The other problem I had was that I thought I would fall totally in love with art in Europe. But sometimes I just felt flat. The shows didn’t talk to me - I had more fun reading murder mysteries. That freaked me out because I thought I was an artist light weight. That real artists would have sketch books and never stop and get totally inspired. Which I did, but not the way I expected. 

On a more general note – your background stems from design. Was being an artist and an illustrator always part of the plan? Was there a plan? 

Steve Jobs which once said that ‘you can’t connect the dots looking forward.’ In hindsight, it all makes logical sense, but at the time it didn’t feel like there was a plan at all. I started off in design and made pictures, always, on the side. One design job really broke me. It was a collision of sorts. I was grateful for it because it left me feeling certain that I wouldn’t be happy designing things. Then I finally got paid for an illustration job and just started from there. 

In the podcast, you talked about commercial work a bit. Do you think commercial work helped or hindered your change in mindset? 

The biggest problem for me with this is about ethics and style. The ethics bit is easier: you have to believe in what the client is selling or doing. The style bit is harder. Generally, they want something you’ve already done. This can get you into a trap of making the same thing, and that happened to me. Clients wanted more of something I didn’t particularly care about. If you want to put 100 percent into something, you have to care about it. Some people are advocates of separating work into fame / fortune / fun. I always wanted all of them to be the same thing. I’m still debating whether it’s ok for some work to be bread and butter whilst others you can do what you like. 

For example, right now I’m about to start writing and making a picture book. I’ll need about 20 K to make this if I’m honest about how long it will take me and how much work I’ll have to say no to –to make it. So what needs to happen? I either a: compromise and spend 20 hours a week making bread and butter work to fund it and the rest of my income. Or b: Just do the stuff you want to do (abstract painting, more watercolours etc) and everything will follow from that, including funding for a kids book. To simplify: it's either, compromise so you know where your cash is coming from, or don’t compromise and attract perhaps an even bigger audience. The trade off is potentially not enough cash to make the kids book right away.

Still workshopping the answer. 

In the podcast, you said, “maybe one day I’ll be a politician.” Is a change of path – temporary or permanent – on the cards at the moment? If not – what’s next for Gatsby?

I care about politics but don’t believe in the system enough at the moment. Whats next is: 

1. Make picture book about what happens when you don’t know the answer to a big question. 

2. Learn how to paint from my original teacher. I want a mentor. I can’t talk about art to anyone. I want to talk about form and colour and the intention behind the picture.

3. Rebrand. Gatsby was a pretty delusional guy. I secretly never loved the book but I liked the title and I liked Fitzgerald. I just want to be more honest. 

4. Go to another meditation retreat and learn about nothing. Nothing is always something but not the way we currently see it. Basically, to help me to stop rushing life so much and create more space, moment to moment.

Do you have any advice for creatives trying to figure some shit out in their life? 

What are you trying to figure out? For me the question is generally: 

What is the most important thing to do any given time, and
How do I do that thing, or move towards it?

First, it’s good to question a few assumptions. One is ‘hustling.’ It’s an idea from the American dreams which basically suggests that the harder and faster you work, the more successful and happier you are. I get it – everyone wants to be fast. We all want the answer so we can be more concrete, more something, more someone. Social media says: look how I’ve got my life sorted out. Look at my speed. Then we feel threatened and want to compete and be someone with substance.

But if you ask an older creative what they would say to their younger selves, it’s always: Stop worrying. Your narrative will find you. You don’t need to work it out. Most of us don’t want to slow down, rethink, be uncertain, or be guided by something unknown to let that happen. We are happier with the instant validation or doing something now.  I love that story about Carl Jung. To deal with his own turmoil, he built his own tower in the woods and then lived in it periodically, to simplify his wants and straighten out his mind. He chose silence. It’s not a remedy you usually get a pat on the back for when you have a problem – we prefer action. 

Wanting to hustle shows that you care. But you get stressed, and you want more things, and if you do it all the time, life isn’t very simple at all. You miss all the action. You’re running too fast. Silence has answers because it’s just space. And sometimes, space is all you need. 

Keeping Quiet – by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

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