Kidd Murray Talks in Depth About Her Paintings, Subconscious Influence and Her Green Worm

by Rubén Palma
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Kidd Murray (b.1994) explores themes of consumerism and materialism, and depicts a world which has been dominated by both, rendering it obsolete. These imagined places are adorned with diamantés, vibrant colours and manicured landscapes, a nod to materialism and impractical, harmful beauty standards. A focal point in most of Murray’s work is the glowing green worm, which represents a toxic consumer. In some pieces the worm can be seen feeding off of fruits and plants, and in others it appears to be struggling to find its place in a superficial, dysfunctional world that has only one agenda – beauty. Kidd Murray graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 2017. 

Hi Kidd, thank you for sitting down with me. First question that I always ask. How does a regular day look like for you in Glasgow?

On a day i’ve committed to the studio (I also work part-time), I like to get a walk in the local park or a workout at the gym before I start. Movement always makes me feel extra productive and is a good way for me to wake up. My next priority is an oat milk latte, before climbing into my paint covered overalls and getting to work. I usually have more than one painting on the go, or something to varnish, so i spend a good half of the day painting, before taking a break and doing a bit of admin. I’m always looking out for funding opportunities, so i spend at least 1 hour scanning the internet for anything new, and I’ll do some work on any ongoing applications that i have. After admin I paint some more, but if something needs to dry before I can do anything else, then I am usually planning my next painting, getting a canvas ready or popping into town for more supplies. I don’t tend to be too motivated in the evenings, so i usually leave the studio around 7pm. At some point in the evening I will look back at images of whatever painting i’m working on, and I use my iPad to plan the next steps. This is something I have only recently started to do and its made a huge difference in experimenting and visualising what I want the finished piece to look like. 

Ok so with that out of the way. When did you start taking painting seriously. Was it before, during or after art school?

I didn’t start painting properly until my final year at Art School, up until then I had been experimenting a lot with mixed media work and also printmaking. After graduating, I continued to paint, but the majority of my work was paper based, so drawings made with pencils and pastels. It wasn’t until the end of 2020 that I began to really dive back into painting, and specifically with oils. I hadn’t used oils much at Art School, only acrylics, so it was a massive learning curve. The next year consisted of major experimenting, physically with the mediums but also theoretically with my ideas and themes. I think during this time I was really having the most fun I have ever had! I had moved back home with my mum during lockdown, quit my call-centre job that I hated, and was painting full-time. I still feel like I learn something new about oil paints with every painting I make, but it’s definitely become my favourite medium to work with. 

While we’re on the subject. Talk to me a little bit about your time in Art School. How was that experience?

I attended Glasgow School of Art, studying Painting & Printmaking. On a social level, Art School was brilliant. I had never before been surrounded by so many creatives, or had my own studio space, so it was just a great vibe to be around other artists from all different disciplines. The first 3 years I experimented mostly, which was encouraged a lot, but I sometimes wish I had had more of a direction. I guess I didn’t really know my strengths yet so I was figuring it out. As with most art schools, the curriculum was mostly independent working, but for me i think i could have benefited from more support and structure. Towards the end of my first year at Glasgow School of Art, the much loved Mackintosh building was sadly ravaged by a fire, so having to be relocated to the other side of the city, away from campus, was a bit disruptive. I feel like we missed out on learning and collaborating with all of the other fine art students, and the inspiration and magic which came from occupying such a beautifully designed and iconic building. Despite the throwbacks, I look back at my time at GSA fondly. 

At some point during your studies you move to Prague for 6 months and continue your studies there. What made you continue your studies abroad? And how was it different compared to Scotland?

In 2nd year, every student is given the opportunity to apply to study abroad, under the Erasmus program, with usually 2-3 spaces per school. I chose Prague mainly because of the stunning, gothic architecture. The Erasmus program helps you with finding accommodation, funding, and generally supports you with your studies while you are away. I studied at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design (AAAD), also known as Umprum. Everything was very different, from the studios to the tutors. It was even more independent that GSA, which i didn’t think was possible! The class critiques were brutal, but very conversational and more collaborative than I had experienced before. My time in Prague was mainly spent socialising, experiencing a new city and all that Prague has to offer- which is loads! It is still a very special place to me. 

Ok so now you’ve graduated, school is behind you and you’re free as a bird. Talk to me a little bit about how life has been like post school. Is it everything you had imagined?

Life post graduating has been mostly good, but has definitely been difficult and challenging at times. As soon as i graduated and my student loans stopped, I had to work full time to support myself. I think I maybe had a bit of an idealistic view of what my life would be like. I hoped to be picked up by a major art gallery at any point, or to make enough private sales each month for me to get by. The reality is that it has taken me 5 years of consistent work to get to where i am now, and I am really only just starting. I feel grateful that my determination and ambitions haven’t waned since graduating (minus a few wobbles). I have stayed pretty focused on my goals and commitment towards building my career. Juggling a “proper” job and time in my studio hasn’t been easy, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. I thrive off of the challenge, and each sale/exhibition/gallery is properly celebrated and appreciated. The fact that it hasn’t been easy makes it feel like even more of a victory. 

Your works question ideas of the “unnatural and natural, the commodification and artificiality of nature”. What do you mean by that?

I am really intrigued when I see something that is trying to mimic something natural. Its like it triggers my imagination, and I immediately think of the irony, of something manmade trying to imitate a plant, a tree, a flower, a piece of fruit etc. It doesn’t have to be a product either, sometimes it’s just the way we try to maintain and control the natural environment, like a very manicured garden, or genetically modifying plants and produce. 

Your recent work explores the environment, specifically the “destructive, yet dependant relationship with nature, and specifically explores genetic modification within plant breeding”. What is it about those topics that makes you document them through your paintings. Where does your interest in that come from?

I’m interested in popular culture, materialism, consumerism, and its downfalls. My imagination takes this idea to the next level, and i start to wonder about an environment where nothing natural is left, like a hyper-consumerist, hyper-materialistic world, where everything is designed to look exceptional. The irony is that a world like this would be completely dysfunctional. From this idea, I started to wonder what the organisms feeding off of these plants, fruit etc, would be like. What would they look like? How would they act? This is where the toxic green worm comes in- a product of its own environment. I have recently began to realise that the worm represents much more than I originally thought. It represents the consumer, specifically a female consumer. I paint the worm in different situations, sometimes it’s hiding, sometimes it’s pretending to be a flower, and sometimes it’s bait on the end of a fishing hook. I’ve realised in hindsight that this represents the standards that women are often held to. The pressure or having to fit in and to act and be beautiful.

So the toxic green worm popped up for the first time in the beginning of 2022. Was it deliberate? I mean, did you create the worm with the purpose of representing the above mentioned topics? Or was it something that gradually developed into that?

Not at first. The worm appeared in some earlier paintings alongside some genetically modified fruit, and I thought it would be funny to give the worm fake eyelashes and big lips, to sort of amplify this idea of things being unnatural. At this time I was also portraying the consumer in my work by painting human hands. There was one painting where I decided to not paint the hands, and to make the worm bigger and to paint it glowing green, and feeding off of a big slice of juicy GM watermelon. I realised not long after I finished this piece that in this narrative, the worm was literally consuming, and that instead of the hands, it now represented the consumer. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I thought about making the worm a main feature within my work. It was a bit of a daunting thought, as I recognised that this would change my work completely, but I knew that I had to run with it to see how it would play out. I’m so glad I did! It actually wasn’t until about a month ago that I began to think of the worm as representing a woman consumer. This was definitely subconscious and happened very naturally. In some paintings the worms are “performing” as flowers, they are dressed in petals and are even pollinating through their mouths. I had no idea what this meant when I made this image, but now I recognise that it’s about women in society feeling pressured to act and look a certain way.

Being that your degree involves printmaking, how has that influenced your paintings and the way you view art?

I think its always a good thing to experience new techniques and ways of making art, and art school was a chance to experiment with printmaking, and to be taught the technicalities of it all. I’m not sure how much this has influenced the work I make today, as I haven’t practiced printmaking since my studies. I certainly have a lot of respect for printmakers, and have the understanding of the amount of work and processes that are usually involved. 

I’m not sure about the timeline. And forgive me if I’m wrong about this statement :D, but would I be totally off if I said that somewhere around 2021, your painting style changed, from a more traditional style with landscapes and sceneries, to a more cartoony, surreal  and glossy style. What made you change it?

When i began to work more with oil paints, I naturally started to experiment with painting smooth, shiny surfaces, i think probably just because of the medium being so smooth and malleable itself. I was painting manmade materials like plastic, and faux fur, arranging them in ways to look like trees. So i think it was also the nature of my subjects which inspired this change. My paintings changed from a more abstract landscape style, to more surreal and dreamlike- simply an outcome of pushing the limits of my imagination. 

What do you hope that we the observers take with us after viewing some of your pieces?

I like to think that the observer can relate to the worm, to its awkwardness or imitation. I want them to question how we live alongside nature, how we present ourselves, and why. Maybe it will make them hyper focused on what is real and what isn’t, perhaps inspiring them to appreciate the untouched and natural. My paintings have a certain humour to them too, so if it can make someone laugh or smile then that is always a good thing. 

What motivates and inspires you?

My main motivation is living the life I want to live! The dream is to spend almost every day in my studio, to travel around the world to attend my own shows, and to meet and connect with as many artists as i can. I want to inspire others to be creative and to work towards building their own careers. I am inspired every day on social media, by other artists who are doing their thing and working hard. I am inspired by how as humans, we act, play, and communicate with each other. I’m inspired every day by all sorts of different things, there are too many to name! Anything which catches my attention, whether because its beautiful, or odd, or funny. If it catches my eye then it means it is out of the ordinary, and i find that inspiring. 

Who’s your favourite artist(s) and why?

My favourite artists are Julie Tuyet Curtiss, Emily Mae Smith, Nicolas Party, Tani Marmolejo, to name a few! I love the vibrancy and other-worldly feel that their work has. 

What’s your favourite movie(s) and why?

I really like sci-fi movies! Interstellar is up there. I also like films with a strong social commentary, like Jordan Peeles’s “Nope”, and “Parasite” by Bong Joon-Ho. I like having a lot to digest and think about once the film has ended. 

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