The Shaped Canvas – Elizabeth Murray


"Bop" 2002 oil on canvas

Grafitti Art, Pop Art? What is it? Elizabeth Murray is recorded as being part of the Neo-expressionist period. I'm not sure I totally agree with that as she seems to me a little less easy to define. Murray, set out to become an illustrator in the late 50's. Her mother had wanted to be a commercial artist and encouraged Elizabeth toward painting. Murray herself had little inclination in the area of painting in part for it's seemingly lack of viability as a stable career. Financial stability was something Murray lost in her childhood when her father became ill and left the family without an income. It was at the Art Institute of Chicago that she became interested in the works of Cezanne, Picasso, de Kooning which prompted an expansion of possibility beyond the realms of illustration as a career path. Although, the field of painting was dominantly a male sphere Murray took the plunge not from a "feminist" motive but from inner awareness that was emerging regarding visual experiences.

"Yikes" 1982

As with most artists the past experience becomes part of the current work. As noted above there were some chaotic times in childhood for Murray that perhaps humor made easier to handle. She is quoted as saying "The really deep, awful stuff you just cover up." and "The bad part is that the humor can dissipate into sentimentality... Everything is an exaggeration." Throughout her career there are implications of exaggeration in her work, perhaps more profoundly in the brightly colored highly graphic, bold shaped paintings like "Bop" at the top of this post. Murray pushed the envelope of painting often by teasing the line between sculpture and painting with her shaped canvases. She was non-traditional in her work and took some harsh criticism over the years, however continued to have a following and high level of interest in what she conveyed visually. To me her art speaks to a vibrant child inside working out the stories and perhaps the pain. I'm reminded of a quote by Picasso. "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." There's a levity and sophistication to Elizabeth Murray's work. She found a way to "remain an artist" and connect universally to the human spirit on some level. That has no gender identification and allowed Murray to "shape her own canvas".

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