While most people hope for a thriving career in one field, Jim Murrin ’77 DDS, ’82 MS has found success in two: as an endodontist and as a painter. In November, the Ohio State Faculty Club will feature a solo exhibit of his works, entitled Sea and Ski & Road in Between.
Inspired by his orthodontist and his family dentist, Murrin decided early on that he wanted to be a dentist. “I saw in them such professionalism and enthusiasm, it just stuck with me,” he said. “In elementary school I thought it would be a good profession. By high school I was determined.”
His appreciation of art was not far behind; growing up with a graphic designer mother near Yellow Springs, Ohio—home of Antioch College—shaped him as well. On Sundays the family had dinner at Antioch Hall, where there was always featured art. “There was lots of pop art, and we would take those images home with us in our mind. That’s probably where I got my interest in painting. Those were the first paintings I saw.”
As an undergrad, Murrin discovered photography and design classes were a good counterbalance to his science-heavy pre-dental course load—though they stopped once Murrin entered dental school. He went on to complete his general dental practice residency in the Air Force before overseeing the oral surgery section at USAF Clinic Kelly in Texas. Later, in graduate school for endodontics, his research with scanning electron microscopy to study endodontic filling materials and endodontic leakage was awarded special recognition by the American Association of Endodontists.
Murrin founded his own endodontic practice in 1982 and worked a full schedule until the ’90s, when he brought an associate into the practice. With his new free time he enrolled in classes at Columbus College of Art and Design and studied drawing and painting two days a week at first, then in the evenings as well.
Today he paints en plein air, or “in the open air,” a favorite practice of French impressionists that, contrary to the pastoral image of artist with easel, has a certain beat-the-clock aspect to it. “The scene is not static, and the light is changing,” Murrin said. “You have to be organized and get your patterns in fast, because after a couple of hours that really interesting shadow will be gone.”
Plein air painting emphasizes capturing the moment, the ephemeral, like Claude Monet’s Haystacks series that depicts the same scene at different times of day.
Frequently, he said, “I will be on the road driving somewhere with my wife and I’ll say, ‘Wow, there’s a painting.’” About an hour east of Columbus along I-70 is a scene that has caught his eye. “It looks so much like an Edward Hopper painting, but it’s on the highway so there’s no place to stop.”
In addition to painting landscape scenes plein air, Murrin uses a camera to create almost dream-like paintings of traffic. “Many of my paintings are from me stuck in traffic, fumbling for my phone knowing that the image is going to disappear in a minute,” he said. “I’ll take hundreds of images and find one that has really nice light and shadow, then I crop it and work from that.”
After years of exhibiting in group shows, 2015 has brought the dentist-painter his first and second solo exhibits—the first being in May at Sharon Weiss Gallery, which represents him. “I’ve painted more this year than I ever have because of these shows,” he said.
Murrin expects his painting pace will continue to increase but has no plans to retire from dentistry.
“After all these years I’m three days a week,” he said of his dental practice. “The other days I paint. It’s just ideal.”