During his life, John Bunion (J. B.) Murray, who could neither read nor write, worked the land and earned his living on different plantations. Art historian Judith McWillie, who interviewed the artist, reported that he began writing a non-semantic script on adding machine tape, wallboard, and stationery after he experienced a vision from God, when he was approximately seventy years old. Murray described the process as such: “He uses my fingers. I can’t use them on my own. It’s the language of the Holy Spirit direct from God. . . . And when I left, the eagle crossed my eye—it shades the sun. That was a spiritual eagle. You know an eagle can see farther than any bird in the world and that’s why that I can see things some more folks can’t see. . . . And the Lord sent a vision from the sun. Everything I see is from the sun.” His paintings exhibit traces of superimposed layers of letters, signs, lines, and sometimes figures he called “the evil people, the ones that are dry tongued, that don’t know God.” The surface of his artworks looks like the distorted reflection in a rippled stretch of water. Interestingly, he confided: “Lord give me a mind of what the water say. . . . Water saves. You can’t hinder water. Water will soak down and come up in another place. . . . So the Lord is strong. You can’t back him up. . . . And He spoke with water.”
Valérie Rousseau, “Untitled,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.