A 39-year-old Bed, Bath & Beyond employee is asking strangers to make paintings of Bill Murray. It may sound like a headline from the reject pile of The Onion, but Ezra Croft means business. He would also like you to know that now that he now has awesome sheets and a sweet frying pan.
As for The Murray Invitational, the official title of Croft’s Murray art show and “golf party,” July 23’s celebration at San Francisco’s Public Works will mark the third large-scale celebrity-themed exhibit he has mounted in as many years. First was a 2014 show dedicated to actor Nicolas Cage, which took place at Balancoire (formerly 12 Galaxies).
“That was my first go at it,” Croft says of the Cage show, who previously had no experience in mounting gallery exhibits. “I had a feeling that a lot of interesting and good art was going to come out of it because people really started to go off the deep end with it.”
[jump] Recalling the colossal line for entry that snaked outside of the Balancoire and down several blocks of Mission Street, Croft admits the incredible turn out came as a bit of a shock. That response inspired Croft to stage his next show, his first tribute to Murray, at the nearby Public Works later that summer. Again advanced tickets quickly sold out, and swarms of people gathered to see Murray depicted in acrylics, oils, and ink.
In the time since the inaugural Murray show, Croft has also hosted shows in tribute of Christopher Walken, Robin Williams, Tim Curry, and Dr. Who. For the Williams show, a life tribute, comedians and clowns were invited to perform. For the Curry show, held in Los Angeles, people came dressed as the actor’s iconic Rocky Horror Picture Show character, Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
Croft believes the public interest in these shows is a testament to the atmosphere he’s work so hard to curate. For The Murray Invitational, he has booked DJs, musician Kat Robichaud, and encouraged attendees to come dressed as their favorite Murray characters.
“I have Netflix and I have a good couch, so what's going to get me to leave the house?” Croft asks. “A Bill Murray show can't just be art hanging on walls. It's gotta be amazing art and fun DJs and rockstars. It's got to be an all-encompassing homage to Murray. It's the pulse of the city that we're really celebrating, truthfully.”
So far Croft and his wife have amassed over 100 pieces of art for their upcoming show. A few are carry-overs from the last exhibit, but many are new. Some even go beyond portraying Murray, embracing an interpretive vantage point to reflect the emotions inspired by his performances and characters. One piece measures over thirty square feet, while others have submitted small sculptures and work beyond the medium of canvasses.
All that seems to missing is an appearance from Murray himself.
“I’m trying really hard to get him to come,” Croft says. “If he comes, I actually want to have karaoke set up on the main stage for the first part of it. If he wants to do karaoke with us, we'll do karaoke.”
Part of Croft’s strategy to recruit the Oscar-nominated actor, who has a reputation for surprise cameos at weddings and college parties, is through Craigslist ads. Croft has posted ads in cities across the United States, and even abroad in England, Berlin, Mexico, Japan, and Ukraine. He’s also tweeted to “every celebrity, news commentator, artist, actor, and random person” he can think of, informing them of the show and kindly requesting that if they know Murray, they let him know about the show.
“I can't make him come to it,” Croft concedes, “but I just hope it kind of piques his interest.”
As for what Croft has in store next, he is weighing all his options. He acknowledges that having a woman or a person of color (or both) as the subject of his next event is definitely a priority.
“We're really throwing it out there and trying to figure out what's going to appeal to the broadest spectrum of people. We don't want to pigeonhole ourselves in any way, and we want to give everybody a really awesome subject to make art [about].”
For now, the focus is on Bill Murray. The Lost in Translation and Ghostbusters star may not appear in the flesh, but his visage will be there in a myriad of forms to greet the visitors of the nearly sold out event. Whether you love him from his Saturday Night Live days or came to know him best for his late-career resurgence in a number of Wes Anderson’s films, there is undoubtedly something for everyone waiting on the walls of Public Works.
The Murray Invitational: A Bill Murray Art Exhibition and Golf Party, July 23, 7:30 p.m. at Public Works, 161 Erie St., billmurray.eventbrite.com