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An Essay on the Artist Murai
by Jonathan Farrell
Meeting Murai is a whirlwind of creativity. Her apartment in the Sunset District near Golden Gate Park is a life size collage in itself. An eclectic mixture of many things, she has canvas, fabrics, and sculpture with various projects in different stages of development which are in some instances, redevelopments.
That is how this artist is. Creativity is all around her and within her. I first met Murai about ten years ago when writing for a local neighborhood newspaper, 'The Sunset Beacon.' She had entered some of her works in the Open Studios program and we kept in contact over the years. I have to admit those years have flown by and her energy has not stalled in any way.
Murai is always growing and moving with the flow of a life force. As soon as I walked in the door she was eager to tell me about "another stage of life." Since receiving her Masters Degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University she has been fascinated by Educational Kinesiology.
"It's the development of the mind through movement. That's old news we talked about that last time," said Murai. This is true. This is what she was working with in the 1990s. "But I want to tell you about my Quantum Critters™," she said.
I tried to direct the conversation to the beginning of her life story but in her unique style she said, "Oh I told you my story before. I want to say something about my new endeavor."
Still connected with the body-mind focus in psychology she sees a holistic approach as very important in the development of human beings. Her Critters are an expression of that need to integrate the entire human being. Bright and whimsical these hand-drawn characters are an expression of the playful side of Murai as well as the most insightful.
As she said, "Quantum Critters™ are packets of energy that pop up at random when you least expect them but need them most."
And she added. "They have healing properties and are metaphors for change." "I want them to help me teach others that life is an art form."
Murai has always had a gift for sharing her ideas and discoveries. She wants to also use her certificates as a diet counselor and nutritional educator to help people use nutrition to improve their health in a holistic way.
The Quantum Critters™ emerged when Murai returned to college to finish her education. "I knew this is what I had to do but I was so frightened. The Critters helped me through it, " said Murai.
Even her thesis for her Masters Degree has the critters on various pages as illustrations regarding theories of Educational Kinesiology in mind-body Psychology. In addition to developing a web page with the critters she has put together proto-types for dolls. The critters have now left the drawing page and have become three-dimensional.
To understand her enthusiasm for these critters you have to go back and look at her life story.
Murai was born and raised in the Mid-west. "Kansas is where I was from and life there was ordinary. I always had a creative element within me but I felt that it was not affirmed in that environment," she said.
The ordinary would over the course of time take the unanticipated step toward the extraordinary. She got married to an oil company executive. "We met at a dance in Kansas while she was still in college. 3 years late I was married," she said.
This marriage had her traveling to far off places that exposed Murai to the world.
By 1968 she and her husband and their three children were living in Tripoli Libya. "This was before the revolution of Quaddafi who eventually overthrew then King Idris," Murai explained.
She interacted comfortably with everyone, she said. "I met with (all people from) ambassadors to veiled women behind the high walls of their villas. Next stop was Rome!" Murai exclaimed as if her itinerary was not exciting enough all ready.
"We spent an exciting three year period in Italy. We lived in a penthouse with a swimming pool, dined out amid the Roman ruins and watched stylish Italians on the Via Veneto."
Rome is where Murai began taking art classes and was as she said, "influenced by the beauty and elegance, our lives were enriched."
Their tour abroad was "topped off" by four years in London. "It was while in London that I focused my studies to modern art history and fine art." For her "London was "the perfect springboard for travel and I traveled extensively," she added.
During that four-year time Murai's travels included most of Europe including Russia, the Middle East, parts of Asia and South America. It was also while in London in Knightsbridge that Murai had the first showing of her own work. And her works sold. Her collages were mentioned in the prestigious 'Arts Review' of London.
Being an awestruck admirer since we first met I had the impression that the name Murai was given to her by Japanese friends on a visit to Tokyo. "No, sweetie, you got that mixed up!" she said. My embellishments were way off.
She corrected me. "I had my first showing in London and with a hyphenated name, Murray-Smith. When I went to the gallery at the last day to get my check for the items I sold, the owner handed me a check that was payable to the order of: Murai."
So it goes! The name stuck and upon returning stateside with the end of her marriage to the oil executive she changed her name legally to Murai. (She discovered later from Japanese friends that Murai is an actual name in Japan).
The children now in boarding school her life as a single parent was setting the stage for a new horizon. She decided to move to San Francisco. Murai had been making things out of fabrics and made them simply for herself.
Oddly, what she had made for herself and her own expression, "people wanted to buy." Confessing, "I really did not like to sew and I had made these things in ways that did not require a lot of sewing." "Inventing ways to make stuff look good," Murai devised techniques of binding and so forth that helped her to create.
One of these creations was a coat that she just happened to wear one day when she met with a friend from New York. "Bruce Katz was a friend I knew from New York and he too had relocated in San Francisco," Murai recounted.
"He loved my coat and asked if I might be able to make some more." In saying yes to Katz, Murai opened the door to yet another adventure. As it turned out Katz had moved to San Francisco to be a buyer for I. Magnin and Co.
Murai with no prior experience found herself in a successful business that she called, "MURAI." Her designs were elegant hand-painted collages sewn onto coats, jackets and vests. This kind of clothing is known as art to wear.
"I don't know how we did it!" said Murai. "Being a divorced woman, I had no credit cards in my name. Living abroad I always paid cash. Credit cards were not as easy to get for someone returning from abroad," she said.
It seems everything she got together for that very first show in the Beverly Hills I. Magnin in Los Angeles was serendipitous. Her coats were the main display in the store windows.
Murai continued. "The kids helped with the modeling and photography. My son found a second hand sewing machine at a garage sale and repaired its like new. My landlords were about to evict a tenant who just happened to sew and we made an arrangement so he could move into our flat instead and pay his portion of the rent working for me in trade."
"How I got through that was something else. He didn't speak English very well but somehow we managed and things got done," Murai said laughing.
"Steve loved my stuff and I got a Rep in New York City to help me." With that initial success the "MURAI" clothing line took off and Murai was living in Pacific Heights with a staff and employees to manage in a wholesale clothing business.
"By 1985 I cut back and let go of some of my employees. I was tired." She said. "I loved the creating and the glamour but I did not like the wholesale/retail business." Murai finally sold out and let the business go in 1989.
This is when she decided to go back to school. Leaving the "high overhead cost of living behind," as she called it. Murai eventually moved to the Sunset District where she has been for the past 12 years.
Her Mid-west background never had "a sense of social strata and so going to work as a taxi driver was something I did not mind doing." In fact, she said "to drive a taxi cab was a fantasy I secretly harbored."
Her driving taxi at night and attending classes at San Francisco's New College during the day allowed her to achieve her goal. After receiving her Bachelor's Degree at New College she entered the Master's Program at Sonoma State University.
It was during her time in school she discovered she had dyslexia - a condition that makes reading very difficult. Frightened and yet determined to succeed Murai arrived at where she is today.
Murai is thinking about so many ideas some she all ready has in progress and others she is apprehensive about at the moment.
Yet if I know Murai she will proceed and succeed with or with out the help of her Quantum Critter™. For as an observer as well as a friend, I believe it is the creativity and the life force she has within her that will help her through everything.
Just to illustrate my point, at present Murai is making plans with a SF GOSPEL church to go to Africa some time this coming May.