Happy Birthday Elizabeth Murray
Elizabeth Murray was born in Chicago in 1940. She earned a BFA at the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from Mills College in Oakland, California. A pioneer in painting, Murray’s distinctively shaped canvases break with the art-historical tradition of illusionist space in two-dimensions.
Jutting out from the wall and sculptural in form, Murray’s paintings and watercolors playfully blur the line between the painting as an object and the painting as a space for depicting objects.
Her still lifes are reminiscent of paintings by masters such as Cezzane, Picasso, and Matisse; however, like her entire body of work, Murray’s paintings rejuvenate old art forms. Breathing life into domestic subject matter, Murray’s paintings often include images of cups, drawers, utensils, chairs, and tables. These familiar objects are matched with cartoonish fingers and floating eyeballs, macabre images that are as nightmarish as they are goofy. Taken in as a whole, Murray’s paintings are abstract compositions rendered in bold colors and multiple layers of paint. But the details of the paintings reveal a fascination with dream states and the psychological underbelly of domestic life.
The recipient of many awards, Murray received the Skowhegan Medal in Painting in 1986, the Larry Aldrich Prize in Contemporary Art in 1993, and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award in 1999. Her work is featured in many collections, including the Walker Art Center, the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Elizabeth Murray and her family reside in New York.
The following article was written by Greg Masters on Murray’s work during an exhibition at the Whitney Museum in in 1988:
The art works of Elizabeth Murray stretch daily objects into jazzier realms. She uses the object as a meditation point the way a soloist in jazz uses a melody. Lately, it’s been a coffee cup, table, or question mark that’s been wrung through her translation process. But this is only the starting point. Her major accomplishment has been to find a way to express her emotional responses to an object, letting her passions go in abstract painting and, at the same time, fusing that rawness within a finely tuned precision, the shaped canvas. Though the boundaries of her canvas are often a bit eccentric, they restrain and give a form to the explosion of impulses. She’s made a happy marriage between the exhilarating freedom to express of the action painters and the clean basics of the minimalists. Walt Disney gets worked in there, too.
Cezanne showed how reality is composed of geometric solids while Elizabeth shows how it’s, in fact, illusory, susceptible to anyone’s subjective rearrangement and embellishment. Her canvases are charged with an energy that shakes the foundations of the visible world, revealing the flux that all matter is humbled by. Except, spicing up Einstein’s equation, Ms. Murray brings the tender, yet vital, expression of feelings into view. Her molecules have soul. It is a looking out at the external world and combining that perception of the physical with the examination looking inward.
What makes the work truly remarkable, is that this look inward is so brave. She repeatedly opens herself up for examination, maintaining the vulnerability necessary for probing the self. The playful decorativeness, aggressive colors, large biomorphic shapes, are infused with an intense honesty and integrity in the process of relating the personal reaction to the geographic environment.
What makes her work so appealing is that her attitude about these explorations is of a joyous nature. The responses she makes visible are glowing with open-eyed passion. They’re vitamins for perception.