Artist Profile – J.B. Murry

1908–1988, lived and worked in Glascock County, Georgia

African American artist J.B. Murry was a brilliant colorist who wrote and drew obsessively, and his prolific output resembles a kind of vernacular version of illuminated manuscripts . Born in Sandersville, Georgia in 1908, Murry spent much of his life as a tenant farmer in rural Glascock County. He raised eleven children with his wife Cleo Kitchens, and exhibited no artistic aspirations until his seventies. A deeply religious man, he experienced a transformative spiritual vision in the late 1970s, following a hip injury and a visit with a local doctor, William Rawlings, Jr., who soon became Murry’s spiritual and artistic advisor as well as his physician. Believing that God had charged him with an evangelical mission, he reinvented himself as a scribe in the service of the Lord, creating and proliferating a vast body of drawings and paintings he referred to as “spirit scripts.” These cryptic works feature visually dense writing system, as sanctioned by God and indecipherable to most viewers—the artist himself was only able to translate the texts by peering through a bottle of holy water.

Dr. Rawlings eventually provided Murry with conventional artistic materials, but in the first period of his practice, the artist inscribed available found surfaces. Later iterations of his work incorporated figurative elements, though even these remained abstract and filled with indecipherable sacred meanings.

A short film of J.B. Murry at work, by filmmaker Judith McWillie

Artist’s Work