Beginning with a close-up of bright neon lips, mouthing out Dolly Parton's classic love croon, "I Will Always Love You," the shot pulls out in a slow single zoom to reveal a glowing apparition of someone both mystical and camp: someone both man and woman serenading you with the ultimate love song.
Blending the reverent with the irreverent, the divine with the mundane and the pop with the poignant, Keith Murray lives and breathes a life inspired by an immensely deep and diverse mix of influences.
Image credit: Keith Murray, Still from "The Dolly Shoot" 2008
From the pop cultural to the religious deities found within the exhibition to simply carrying on conversation, Murray pulls from a wealth of resources on any number of issues jumping from the Bible to Star Wars. Speaking in particular to "The Dolly Shoot," Murray explains during a break during his installation, "I always thought that divine persons would be transgendered, and then I found out in The Book of Revelations 1:13, John had a vision of Christ with breasts. The King James version changed things, but I thought, 'Huh, of course, Christ would have breasts.'"
Although the breasts are drawn on in the video, Murray had a double mastectomy at the age of 14 when he began to develop breasts during puberty. As something he had blocked out of his mind for 11 years, Murray now openly shares that he's began recollecting the experience in the last two years.
"In Buddhism, you can envision one's self as an enlightened being," says Murray, who actively engages in various religions. "I see this figure [in "The Dolly Shoot"] as the fully realized vision, the end goal, of who I am—if nothing had changed."
Blending his background in digital media (ACAD) with his training in make up and special effects, Murray had painted his entire body blue from head to toe, resembling more a Blue Krishna than a pop country superstar, but this confluence of imagery is what has made Murray such an interesting, if not, surprising artist. Highlighting his third eye and heart chakras, Murray genuinely approaches the idea of performing a love song to him/herself and to the viewer without falling to camp or elitism.
The Calgary-based artist began his PhD this fall at the Institute of Advance Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. Funded through a full scholarship, Murray also splits his time in Las Vegas, where he married himself last summer, curating and organizing exhibitions and screenings at the Erotic Heritage Museum.
Having always been interested in finding the divine in the mundane, and recognizing that those who do recognize the divine in the everyday are often the ones who go the extra mile to tell their story, Murray ultimately feels the performance is a love song to his ego.
"It's about yearning to grow beyond yourself and willing to let go," he says. "We're all totally and completely loved, and this figure has come back to remind you of this truth."
*First published in Vue Weekly