Roosters strut at Treehouse gallery

Jordan Ronson and Paul Murray
Jordan Ronson (left) talks art with Paul Murray, Treehouse Studio manager. Photos by Lynn Christoffers

By Brooks Robards - April 12, 2007

West Tisbury's Treehouse Studios has started off the 2007 art season with a loud crow, as roosters of all sizes, shapes and colors strut their stuff for the "Cocka-Doodle Do It: A Celebration of Roosters" show. Nearly 30 portraits of the barnyard creatures hang on the walls, thanks to the industry of gallery proprietor Ruth Adams and her son, Paul Murray, the Treehouse's new manager, whose paintings are featured.

"They're gestural paintings," Mr. Murray says, referring to the interest in roosters. "They're almost like symbols to begin with. They're very simple forms to paint." A longtime summer visitor who has exhibited at his mother's gallery in the past, Mr. Murray moved to the Island in January to live full time and take over managing the gallery.

Also a poet and children's book author, he spent many years working as a designer and marketer in central Pennsylvania before returning to fine arts. "It's good to get back to it," he says.

Ruth Adams
Artist Ruth Adams at last weekend's opening in West Tisbury where her rooster paintings were featured.

Almost all the works Mr. Murray is showing are in acrylic. The one exception is a relatively small watercolor and ink work called "Good Morning," where his rooster shares space with graphic elements.

He often works with heavy layers of paint and bright colors, as he does in "Bantam," where a jaunty rooster with vivid tail feathers stands out against a green background. Those paintings in which he uses less paint call attention to themselves because they are the exception.

While Mr. Murray's roosters usually are strongly figurative, as is "Rooster Feeding" in red, white and green, most of his most interesting work can be quite abstract. It's the abstract elements, for instance, that dominate in "Rooster and Hen," with its big, generous strokes in orange and red.

Another example of Mr. Murray's penchant for abstraction is "Rooster, Three Hens," where a rooster, barn and three hens, just barely discernible at first, emerge out of a multicolored festival of strokes. In "Sunrise," a bright red tractor wheel--or is it the sun?--hangs above the "fowl" subject of the painting, and the background is broken into interesting planes of white, yellow and pink.

Mr. Murray says he has drawn many of his roosters from memory, and although he doesn't like to paint from photographs, he looked at plenty of photos. He found an entire web site on the Internet devoted to rooster training. Not everyone appreciates roosters since they like to crow early in the morning and can be quite aggressive, even with their owners.

Although essentially self-taught, Mr. Murray took studio art classes as an undergraduate at Swarthmore College and studied at the Phoebe Flory School of Watercolor Portraiture in Keene, N.H.

His mother studied art education at Mankato State University in her Minnesota hometown and then taught for many years at the Kimberton Waldorf School in Pennsylvania. Ms. Adams has lived on the Vineyard for 12 years and has run the Treehouse Gallery, which also carries antiques, for six years.

"Art has always been my passion," she says. In contrast to her son's, Ms. Adams' work puts strong elements of graphic design in the forefront. The two artists' styles complement each other well.

"Rooster With Trees," with its blues, whites, reds and purples provides one good example of Ms. Adams's sense of graphics. Another is "If I've Said It Once, I've Said It a Thousand Times." This pastel appears to be a winter scene with a line of fir trees along an imaginary horizon, the moon above, and a rooster filling a starry sky with his call from his rooftop perch.

Eleven separate, square portraits make up Ms. Adams's "Cockadoodle Doodle," a charming zigzag line of roosters. While Mr. Murray works with almost feverish kaleidoscopes of color, Ms. Adams relies on a palette of colors, which if not exactly cooler, appear in solid blocks. Her approach to abstraction comes through in the conscious absence of perspective and in the balanced arrangement of design elements.

In "Spring Fling" she has used acrylic paint to color her central rooster orange. She has captured him in motion and surrounded him with a delightfully busy background of chickens. Strong color contrasts in the aquamarine body, red comb and orange beaks bring together "Rooster's Entourage" compositionally.

The rooster show at the Treehouse Studios will continue through April 30. Just look for the flock of rooster whirligigs spinning in the wind outside the gallery.