The actor Bill Murray has played a diverse array of roles in his decades-long career, including an unhinged greenskeeper, a paranormal exterminator, a weatherman caught in a time loop and an idiosyncratic undersea explorer. Now he can add muse to the list.
Murray is the inspiration behind the new exhibition "Mr. Bill Murray," opening Friday at R&R Gallery in the downtown Arts District. The group show features work by 47 artists and Murray aficionados.
For R&R owners and Utah transplants C.W. Mihlberger, 30, and Mark James Yamamoto, 31, Murray is the perfect figure around whom to organize a show.
Why Bill Murray? "Because he's the biggest badass in the world," said Mihlberger, whose favorite Murray film is "What About Bob?."
Yamamoto, who prefers "Groundhog Day," was equally enthusiastic. "Why not Bill Murray?" he said.
After contemplating further, Yamamoto added, "We got into this idea of doing a show on Bill Murray because we're so influenced by pop culture, as most of our generation is. And I think that's the main thing that we're trying to do with this gallery."
The sixth and largest show held at R&R, "Mr. Bill Murray" was partially inspired by an old screen print by Mihlberger, which was lying around the gallery when the artists were brainstorming their next exhibition.
They started pitching the idea to artist friends in Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Utah, intending to feature 20 or so people. The response was overwhelming: The number of participants more than doubled, and Mihlberger and Yamamoto had to start turning people away.
Murray's extensive resume and quirky public persona gave the artists plenty of raw material. He got his start with Chicago's Second City improv troupe and on "Saturday Night Live" before transitioning to the big screen with hit comedies such as "Caddyshack" and "Ghostbusters." More recently he has morphed into a nuanced dramatic actor through his work with hip indie directors like Wes Anderson ("Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums"), Jim Jarmusch ("Broken Flowers") and Sofia Coppola ("Lost in Translation").
As such, the art of "Mr. Bill Murray" represents a sort of imagined biography of its subject, a glimpse into lives not quite lived.
"Streams Have Been Crossed the Universe Undone," a portrait painted in bold acrylics by the artist Skinner, is set in an oval-shaped wooden frame and depicts a demonic, possibly possessed Peter Venkman, Murray's spirit-catching character from "Ghostbusters."
"Untitled Groundhog Day," an acrylic painting on wood by David Ra, captures Murray's weariness in that film and includes a nod to the flip-clock alarm that bedevils him every morning, while Brett Manning's charming ink-and-gouache "Young Mr. Murray" renders the actor as a dapper young man with the barest hint of a wry smile.
It seems each of the artists is responding to a particular theme or idea teased out by some aspect of Murray's work, a phenomenon that might help explain his near-universal appeal.
"Out of all of his movies and everything that he's done, there's a movie that everyone loves, no matter what," Mihlberger said. "He's someone that everyone can relate to."
Mihlberger himself identifies with Murray's disconsolate misfits. His own piece is a portrait composed of ballpoint pen circles that derives from an image of Murray's listless character in "Rushmore."
Emily Heart Wood's mixed-media piece (stencils, pencil, ink and acrylic on wood), "The Sailor," is inspired by "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" and portrays a pipe-smoking cartoon Murray clutching a goldfish bowl while perched on a sailboat. For Yamamoto, the piece limns the sense of childlike innocence and wonder Murray brings to so many of his roles.
The exhibition isn't limited to paintings. Other pieces expected in the show include stained-wood work, freestanding sculpture, a model "Life Aquatic" submarine, and a life-size nude done in colored pencil and marker.
Still, the ultimate work of Bill Murray art might yet await. Though Mihlberger and Yamamoto have not formally reached out to Murray, they will be prepared should he stop by the gallery during the show's run.
"He's a pretty artistic dude, so we're going to leave a space open for him with some supplies and a little placard," Yamamoto said. "If he does happen to stop by, he can do a little something and we'll have a Bill Murray piece of our very own."
'Mr. Bill Murray'
Where: R&R Gallery, 929 E. Second St., Suite 106, Los Angeles
When: Opening reception Fri. 7 p.m.-midnight. Viewable by appointment through Sept. 30
Contact: (213) 626-2261; http://www.therandr.org