'Big, Bold, Black & White' on display at Horace Williams House

CorrespondentJanuary 18, 2014 

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Artist Murry Handler, right, knew he would marry his wife, Enid, the night he met her. The couple, married for 61 years, work together, with Murry painting and Enid marketing his work and more.

HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • Details

    What: “Big, Bold, Black & White,” exhibit of Murry Handler’s abstracts.

    Where: Horace Williams House, 610 E. Rosemary St., Chapel Hill.

    When: Through March 23. The exhibit can be seen 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.

    Cost: Free

    Info: 919-942-7818 or

    preservationchapelhill.org

Seventeen paintings by octagenarian artist Murry Handler are on view at Chapel Hill’s Horace Williams House through March 23.

There’s not an ounce of color in the works on view in “Big, Bold, Black & White,” but they are vibrant and captivating.

Painting “is how I keep going,” Handler said. “Whenever I get so full of the anger and violence around me that we read and see, I have to get it out of my system, that means putting it on canvas.”

Among the most striking works in the exhibit is his large canvas, “War.”

“I attacked this canvas with a huge brush and black paint that dribbled down,” Handler said. “If it was red, it would have looked like blood. I drew figures like an old villager with a rocket launcher in his hand and soldier bodies. This piece, which is part of a series called ‘The Human Condition,’ is pretty harsh to look at.”

Painter Nerys Levy, a member of the Horace Williams House Art Committee, is drawn to Handler’s work for his powerful simplicity of color, line and form.

“He edits out a lot of excess, and this makes his paintings unique,” Levy said.

Some of Handler’s most abstract works are in this show.

“They are going to take people some time to look at as they are not something that people can focus on and say they know what they are,” Handler said. “I will put some explanations next to some of them, which will be helpful.”

Even without these helpful clues, it will be obvious that the natural world has shaped Handler’s psyche.

“I lived in Maine as a child, canoeing paths and streams,” Handler said. “I would live in the woods for a weekend. It was marvelous.”

Another fundamental influence on Handler’s work is his wife of 61 years, Enid.

“Enid is my rock,” Handler said. She is also his business partner, handling marketing of his work, managing his website ( murryhandler.com), helping design and mount shows, and giving names to his creations.

“I find it fascinating how he can come up with new ideas all the time,” said Enid, former director of a community health center in New York. “Murry offers a different perspective from my way of looking at things. Some of that is colored by his being very visual. I am not visual. I am much more a thinking woman. I approach from logic, analysis and examination. He is spontaneous and intuitive. I think that is the joy of the creative spirit.”

One of Handler’s newer artistic inspirations grew out of his love for Allen & Son’s barbecued fish sandwich, which is wrapped in aluminum foil.

“The foil fascinated me, so I began to play with it,” Handler said. “I cleaned it off with soap and a sponge, and it changed the texture. Then I pasted it on canvasses and starting painting around it.”

A piece from this series can be seen at the Bold Building at 50101 Governors Drive in Chapel Hill.

Handler spent the first several decades of his career working in design, eventually owning his own design studio with 14 employees.

“If you have seen the show ‘Mad Men’ about advertising, that was my life,” he said. But in 1982, he sold his business to make his way as a painter.

“It has been challenging, but I have been very fortunate in that I have not had to take a job selling shoes,” Handler said. “Many times I have thought, ‘What the heck am I doing with three kids in college and trying to sell paintings?’ 

At 85, Handler is in his home studio every day, working hard until the sun begins to fade.

“I am afraid if I stop painting, I drop,” he said.

As for his wife, whom he knew he would marry after the night he met her, he said they are still sweethearts.

“I still chase her around. I just don’t go as fast as I used to.”

Meyer: writetoeloise@gmail.com

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