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Art Paper - Elizabeth Murray


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Apr 14, 2009   #1
Elizabeth Murray was an admired painter and one of the best American painters that emerged in 1960. Elizabeth's career did not come easy for her or any painters because painting was "struggling to come back to life in the 1970's and 80s" (Lacayo). Many of the artists during this time were experimenting and were introducing shaped paintings while, many of Murray's paintings were also taking shape. Murray's paintings were abstract, cartoon-based and involved everyday objects, like cups, spoons, tables and broken hearts. Her pieces would take on so much creativity and energy which made each piece vibrant and unique.

Elizabeth Murray was born in Chicago in 1940. Murray did not have an easy childhood while growing up. At a young age Murray's family moved a lot, and at times were homeless due to her fathers ill state, he would encounter many nervous breakdowns that would ruin his chances at maintaining jobs. Her drawing started at an early age and would help her through much of her schooling. While she was in elementary school she enjoyed drawing cartoons that were then sold to her classmates and friends for a quarter.

Murray attended the Art Institute of Chicago, while there she began taking courses and was planning on a career in advertising design. She would later come to realize this wasn't the right area for her, and found herself adventuring towards painting. This transition did not come easy for her, she would endure many more courses to learn the techniques and acquire the skills that painting needed. She would go on to study Ciezanne, Picasso and de Kooning, all of these artists were her inspiration and where she would begin image-based paintings. She would then later transition into the abstract painting. After graduating from the Art Institute where she earned her BFA, she then earned her MFA at Mills College in California. There she would meet a lifelong friend, Jennifer Bartlett and together they would use abstract imagery in their paintings.

Murray's style began to really emerge in the early eighties. This is where she really emerged into making the shaped canvas. Take for instance, the paintings called Small Town and Painters Progress. Murray did not use the normal boundaries, she broke away from painting on a regular canvas. Instead these pieces required many different sizes of canvas to be shaped and molded together to come to the end product.

When looking at the piece Painters Progress (Fig. 1), the canvas looks as if it has exploded and shattered into a million different pieces. In an interview with Greg Masters, Murray gives some insight into the meaning behind shattering pieces of her artwork, "The shattered pieces were about really feeling that one could be broken and yet... I was thinking of taking a painting and actually breaking it into pieces and then using an image to pull it together and that felt extremely psychological and a reality in my life" (Masters). The shattering of the pieces and the shapes that come from that bring a different function and meaning to each painting. It is as if this piece takes on the affect of being a jigsaw puzzle that is slowly coming together with all the pieces sliding into place. The colors that Murray has chosen for this piece are eye popping and bring out the image of a palette with three brushes coming out from the palette's hole.

Many of Murrays paintings have been said to be "a collision between order and disorder" (The Metropolitan Museum of Art). Which fits in perfectly with her piece titled Terrifying Terrain (Fig. 2), this piece consists of overlapping layers of panels and paint. The inspiration for this piece was from a rock-climbing trip, this is just one of the many examples that Murray uses elements from the world around her into abstract paintings. With this piece you can see all the irregular shaped pieces that resemble the mountains rugged terrain and obstacles that you must endure before getting to the top.

Like many artists her paintings were reflected around her life, household and surroundings. During the late '80s and '90s Murray's paintings were becoming more unpredictable and transforming into three dimensional aspects that were beginning to bulge out from the wall. These changes were mainly because of the changes she was experiencing in her life and family. Some of the paintings that were revolved around her family life during this time were Deeper then D, Kitchen Painting and Euclid. In the piece Deeper then D (Fig. 3) was made during the time of dealing with the death of her mother, Dorothy. Also during this time she was becoming a mother herself, which lead to some of the paintings resembling the changes she was experiencing with her own body. The paintings would then adventure into the world of being a mother and the daily tasks you encounter. Take for instance the painting Euclid (Fig. 4) which is about a mother or parent figure feeding their child and the kitchen chaos that goes along with it. Elizabeth once referred to her work as "My paintings are often strange, and sometimes show me a side 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" (Robins). Each one of Murray's unique abstract paintings will always contain a different journey that we as the viewer must interrupt into our own meaning.

Unfortunately this beloved artist died from complications of lung cancer on August 12th at the age of 66. But during her lifetime she was awarded many awards, like the Skowhegan Medal in Painting in 1986, the Larry Aldrich Prize in Contemporary Art in 1993 and a MacArthur Foundation Award in 1999. She will live on to be an admired painter and a great example that you can accomplish anything your heart desires.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Apr 15, 2009   #2
This is a nice bio. However, you did not say anything in that first paragraph to get me to care. If I am not already familiar with her work, it is YOUR work in that first paragraph that has to get me to care.

Then, at the end of that first paragraph, write a thesis statement: an original observation about her. What is YOUR particular message about her? Got any insightful observations? You say, "Like many artists her paintings were reflected around her life, household and surroundings," so... what does that mean with regard to the way she paints a collision between order and disorder? What are the implications? This is where you bring your writing to life.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Apr 18, 2009   #3
Is this supposed to be a straight out biography? If so, you have done a good job. If not, you might want to say something about her influence on artistic trends, so that you can craft an arguable thesis. What were the exact instructions you were given for the assignment?
silverystars 14 / 105  
Apr 18, 2009   #4
Like Kevin said, I would strengthen the first paragraph. One way of doing that is by quoting Murray near the very beginning, and then drawing an interesting analogy from it. Here is one I just Googled: "What I want more than anything else in my life and in my painting is, however I get there, for things to unify and for things to come together." By featuring her words at the get-go, it can instantly ratchet up the interest of the reader.

Hope this helps!


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