Ross Murray is influenced by a combination of comic books and vintage advertising. He’s created artwork for clients such as Lonely Planet, NASA, Disney, Apple, Rolling Stone Magazine, The Washington Post, Garage Project, and The Spinoff. Part of his work involves re-watching Disney princess movies. Yes, we’re jealous.
Your occupation, job title, artistic discipline (or very brief description of what you do):
I’m an illustrator. My work is used for all sorts of things – from books and beer cans to editorial illustrations and ad campaigns. I also make comics for grown-ups and picture books for kids. My most recent picture book is called Muki and Pickles and is out now from Beatnik Publishing.
What cities/towns have you lived in (or spent more than a few months in) beginning with the place of your birth?
I was born in Whakatāne and grew up on a dairy farm in Otakiri. Since then I have lived in near a town called Cremona in rural Alberta, Canada; in Auckland; in the village of Towa-cho in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan; at Opoutere in the Coromandel; and in Tauranga for the past twelve years.
What are the earliest stories you remember hearing? The ones that told you about the world?
I remember stories of great grandfathers. One of them clinging to floating wreckage all night in the middle of the ocean after his ship was bombed during the war. Another doing the back-breaking work of turning wetland into pasture on the Rangitaiki Plains. Stories of endurance through hard times which mostly had the effect of making me feel pathetic about ever complaining about anything. I’ve since found the strength to overcome that.
What’s your favourite Bay of Plenty landscape, park, building, location, suburb, or side street? Why?
Grieve Road in Otakiri is pretty special to me. It’s where the family farm is and where multiple generations of Murrays have grown up. The bridge on the corner is an especially memorable spot and where I once ran over a cow in my Mazda 626.
What’s an average day in your life at present?
My day begins with dropping my elder daughter at college. I then head to my studio at the Mount where I’ll drink a dangerous amount of coffee and continue working on whatever project(s) I have on the go. On a good day, I’ll walk around Mauao at lunchtime then have a quick swim in the sea. I’ll work through till around 4 or 5pm then head home and see what trouble my family’s gotten up to during the day. In the evening, I’ll probably spend half an hour answering emails and doing miscellaneous admin such as answering baffling questionnaires from local arts organisations.
What music was present and still memorable from your youth/adolescence?
Prince – I still own the Cream and Diamonds & Pearls cassingles! Then a fair bit of grunge – Superunknown by Soundgarden, Vitalogy by Pearl Jam, everything by Nirvana. Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie by the Smashing Pumpkins were favourites.
For you as a creative person, who are three influential artists or thinkers?
I was fortunate enough to be tutored by Welby Ings whilst studying graphic design at AUT. Welby is a terrific teacher and instilled in me the importance of setting high standards and caring about your work.
Naomi Klein has influenced how I see the world. Her books No Logo and This Changes Everything had a big effect on me.
In terms of artists, I’d have to say Stanley Kubrick. I’ve always been in awe at the dizzying range of his films. From noir to absurdist comedy to science fiction to psychosexual drama to period pieces to war films to horror! But no matter what the genre, his immaculate sensibility reigns supreme.
If you went away from the Bay of Plenty for a long time and then came back, what are the first three things you would do or visit?
A walk up or around Mauao, a drive around the Rangitaiki Plains and a visit to Ohope Beach.
Looking back at your childhood self: what one sentence describes that person?
A shy little idiot who loved sports, drawing and TV.
If you had to eat the same meal every day, what would it be?
A Japanese bento box.
What are you planning for 2022 that nobody knows about yet?
At our current point in time, not planning anything seems like the best way to go! The act of making comics is a kind of therapeutic escape for me so I may chip away at some of those at some stage.
Who are your favourite or most admired figures from history?
Hmm, I’ll say Siddhartha Gautama. He sure figured some stuff out.
And Kate Sheppard. She knew how to get stuff done.
Lastly, David Bowie. He made stuff on his own terms in a truly fantastic way.
If the Prime Minister asked you to make up a new policy or law for New Zealand, what would it be?
Probably a Universal Basic Income.
In one sentence, can you define art?
Art is an awkward attempt to make sense of the world.
What is missing or lacking from your Bay of Plenty community or environment?
Well, obviously a museum. It’s insane that Tauranga doesn’t have one. There are a lot of old, white racists here so somewhere to learn about actual history might help.
Name a few films that you consider profound, moving or extraordinary?
2001: A Space Odyssey blew my mind when I saw it as an impressionable young teenager. I didn’t really know what was going on but I desperately wanted to! Mulholland Drive (and everything by David Lynch, really) is amazing. I find the way his narratives give way to abstraction incredibly seductive. And because I was living in Japan at the time it was shot, Lost In Translation is one of my all-time favourites. Being listless in Tokyo felt very familiar to me. Such a killer soundtrack too. A few other classics to round it off: Days of Heaven, Vigil, Le Mepris, Dead Man, The Piano, In the Mood for Love, Last Year in Marienbad, Spirited Away (and everything else by Hayao Miyazaki!)…
What was your first real job, second, third?
It probably can’t be called a real job but I taught English in Japan for a couple of years after uni. When I got back I got a job as an in-house artist / designer at an ad agency in Auckland. After 3 or 4 years doing that, I started what I’m doing now which is being a freelance illustrator. In the last couple of years I’ve done a lot of work for Disney. When I’m sitting around during the day rewatching Disney Princess movies for reference, my kids will often ask me when I’m going to get a real job.
Where would you like to live, but have yet to?
I’d like to know what living in Scandinavia is like. Also a warmer Pacific Island. But I’d actually love to live in Wellington for a bit (as long as there aren’t anti-vaxxers defecating in the harbour and setting playgrounds on fire).
What word of advice would you offer an aspiring creative person?
Do it for yourself. If other people connect with what you make, consider it a bonus.
What’s the biggest problem about life in New Zealand? How you would solve it?
Inequality and the myriad forces that contribute to it. Stuff like taxing extreme wealth and capital gains to fund a greater investment in health and education would be an easy start.
What is your dream of happiness?
Extreme health and a little more time.