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The Art Story Homepage Artists Elizabeth Murray
Elizabeth Murray Photo

Elizabeth Murray

American Painter

Movement: Neo-Expressionism

Born: September 6, 1940 - Chicago, IL

Died: August 12, 2007 - New York, NY

Elizabeth Murray Timeline

"My paintings are often strange, and sometimes show me a part of myself - a violence and physicality that scares me. It's not always pleasant or easy. I don't always like it, and really when I do them it's a journey."

Summary of Elizabeth Murray

Elizabeth Murray's paintings are fun, cartoonish, and also deadly serious in their commitment to the medium and its boundless possibilities. Murray is famous for expanding painting's dimensions by working across multiple canvasses, and fragmenting the picture plane by breaking up not only the image, but the painted object itself.

Murray's work plays between abstraction and recognizable imagery, using bright, garish colors to portray objects, people, relationships, and emotions: in particular the works express a joy in painting alongside a healthy disrespect for the hallows of painting's serious histories and, later in her life, a frank acknowledgement of her own mortality and illness.

Key Ideas

'Pastiche' is a term used to refer to a celebratory imitation of an artwork or style. Parody is a similar term, but means an imitation produced to mock. Murray's paintings often both pastiche and parody painting's history: using recognizable Cubist and Modernist abstraction techniques and reinterpreting famous works of art in a way that playfully pokes fun at the hallowed history and contemporary seriousness of painting as a medium.
Unlike many of her cotemporaries, Elizabeth Murray was determined not only to paint (after one of painting's many purported deaths), but to make fun paintings. Influenced by cartoons, Murray's work is intentionally bright, often silly, and always playful.
Elizabeth Murray Photo

Elizabeth Murray was born in 1940 in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in Bloomington, Indiana. Her parents were Irish immigrants and her mother took care of the family, while her father worked as a lawyer. Despite her father's job and a few good early years, the family often struggled financially and experienced some bouts of brief homelessness. Murray admired her mother's artistic abilities; particularly her painted miniatures, but saw her as "a typical woman of the thirties. She didn't have the whereabouts to make herself have a career." Despite her parents' traditional background, they didn't pressure her to get married and have a family; rather, they expected she would become a commercial artist due to her love of drawing.

Important Art by Elizabeth Murray

The below artworks are the most important by Elizabeth Murray - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Pink Spiral Leap (1975)
Artwork Images Google images

Pink Spiral Leap (1975)

Artwork description & Analysis: This is one of Murray's self-labeled 'transitional works', where she was "being playful in [her] choice of color," increasing the size of the work, and endeavoring to open up the canvas in innovative ways. On a thickly painted teal background she takes a thin line of creamy pastel pink and moves it in swoops and circles, barely picking the brush up while she does so. A few tiny squares dot the canvas, but the overall impression is one of a child-like simplicity.

Murray, whom critic Nancy Princenthal lauds as a "fractious formalist," engages in a dialogue with her artistic predecessors in this piece, but there are glimmers of her future exploration of moving beyond the strictures of painting as she perceived them. She explores the indexical mark of Pollock with her line, the depth and dimension of Clyfford Still's painterly fields, the playful and sinuous organic shapes of Miro, and the quirky whimsicality of Stuart Davis. However, the pink line is deliberately curving and playful - Princenthal calls it "unleashed" - and it refuses to take the form of the Minimalists' grid or the hard edges of the Cubists. She is not yet arrived at the shaped and fragmented canvases for which she would soon be celebrated, but Pink Spiral Leap's boldness in size and gesture hints at what is to come.

Oil on canvas

Join (1980)
Artwork Images Google images

Join (1980)

Artwork description & Analysis: Join is comprised of two conjoined canvases; organic shapes in red and green resembling the halves of a heart or two faces in profile dance towards each other, filling the entire picture plane, which is a saturated hot pink, their undulating edges not quite fitting into the other's form. A diminutive string of purple globules arcs up from the top of one and rests on the other. The colors are mildly discordant but their effect, coupled with the space between the canvases, is of syncopation and vitality.

Murray's choice to paint on two canvases "represents the beginning of [her] original and increasingly complex way of deconstructing objects on separate canvases." Like medieval and Renaissance diptychs, the piece features images on each panel that also work in concert with each other. Form isn't Murray's only concern here; color occupies a central role in this piece. Fellow artist Carroll Dunham notes, "her use of color has tended to be sexy and aggressive, bespeaking a healthy appetite for the primaries and a substantial need for variety. The powerful mechanics of desire underlie all these choices..."

"Sexy and aggressive" is also an apt description of this composition as a whole: two organic forms face each other, one penetrating the other's canvas; a purple string of pearls or spit or insides sparks off their bodies and the use of complementary red and green maintains a simultaneously oppositional, but synchronous energy. Here, Murray reinvigorates the possibilities for formal play at the level of the built canvas, as well as producing an effecting and emotive abstract composition.

Oil on canvas - Private collection

Painter's Progress (1981)
Artwork Images Google images

Painter's Progress (1981)

Artwork description & Analysis: Painter's Progress is a painting of an artist's palette and brush, made up of 19 individual canvases of various shapes, arranged in a fashion that allows the viewer to see the discrete pieces but also the painted image. Murray's colors are bright and cartoony; the three brushes draw the eye with their brilliant orange hue, and the palette is in shades of pistachio, pink, and teal.

Murray described this piece as "so psychologically satisfying because I finally realized the meaning of shattering and of putting an image inside the shattered parts that would make them whole again." There is an intense feeling of pushing and pulling, of the outside edges of the canvas now just as active as the painted image within. The image of the palette and brushes is not a capricious one; it is art turned back on itself and "a symbolic escape from the usual boundaries of art." Carroll Dunham explains, "by bringing the most sophisticated painterly strategies to bear in the representation of such a hokey icon, Murray neutralized volumes of self-perpetuating theoretical cant." The work is intentionally unserious in its subject matter, while engaging with the formal questions and strategies of abstraction, fragmentation, and perspective, which had defined much of modern painting up till and including the 1980s. This piece is an affecting mash-up of the Pop sensibility (as in Warhol's instantly recognizable coke cans) and Minimalist obsession with the formal qualities of an artwork (as in Donald Judd's grids and shelves). This is an example of the way Elizabeth Murray expanded the field of painting, which means she opened up the possibilities for what painting can be by working beyond the flat surface of the picture plane and integrating sculptural elements into her works.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

More Elizabeth Murray Artwork and Analysis:

Wake Up (1981) Can you Hear Me? (1984) Do the Dance (2005)

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Elizabeth Murray
Interactive chart with Elizabeth Murray's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Show influences

Artists

Joan MiróJoan Miró
Frank StellaFrank Stella
Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning
Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Juan GrisJuan Gris

Personal Contacts

Jennifer Bartlett
Nancy GravesNancy Graves
Hans ArpHans Arp
Georges BraqueGeorges Braque

Movements

SurrealismSurrealism
CubismCubism
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Pop ArtPop Art
AssemblageAssemblage
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Elizabeth Murray
Elizabeth Murray
Years Worked: 1967 - 2007
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Carroll Dunham
David SalleDavid Salle
Katherine Porter

Personal Contacts

Jennifer Bartlett

Movements

Neo-ExpressionismNeo-Expressionism

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Kristen Osborne-Bartucca

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Kristen Osborne-Bartucca
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 25 Aug 2018. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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