Yau observes: "I think of the instances that both [paintings] 'Bathroom Sink' and 'Cathy' depict as being transitory... The material world persists, but Murphy’s depictions of brief records of our physical presence acknowledge that they will be transformed into something in which no trace of our having been there will remain. All evidence of our existence will be washed away in one case and, in the other, melt. We are destined to become invisible. Here, we might also read “Cathy” as Murphy’s pointed response to the belief that painting consists of mark-making and the artist’s signature gestures. It is not that painting has died. It is that certain values that we have long attached to it have died, which means that artists can reinvent it, as I believe Murphy has done."
Murphy comments: "I used to just say all representational painting is narrative. But I think it is all narrative, and I think form can be subject... I ... considered how I could make these two things— form and subject—mutually inclusive, not exclusive. How do I make these two things depend on one another so that they can’t be separate but neither can be denied? How do I get the pitch of both of them equal but somehow supportive of one another? That is what I’ve been trying to do for a long time. But it took a long time to understand, or even have the courage to do. One of the reasons I decided that subject really matters is that people buy paintings according to the subject. I have yet to meet someone who bought a painting of a subject they wanted nothing to do with, simple as that. When I love a painting, that’s part of why I love it too. I see paintings abstractly, first and foremost, but if it’s going to be a representational painting, if it’s going to be a Descent from the Cross, I’m not going to be blind to that."
John Yau blogs about the work of Catherine Murphy on the occasion of the exhibition Catherine Murphy: Two Subjects – Forty Years, curated by Portia Munson, at the BYRDCLIFFE Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, Woodstock, New York, on view through August 11, 2013.
Yau writes that Murphy "is uncompromising in ways that I admire, which is to say she is not dogmatic. Always in hot pursuit of what she sees — subjects so commonplace and underfoot that other painters working in a parallel vein would not think of looking at twice — her subjects have become more memorable to me as the years pass: a balloon floating against the ceiling of a girl’s bedroom; a bathroom sink half full of water, with hair floating in it; a dirty tablecloth; a hole in the ground; a paint spattered studio floor; a cut-paper snowflake taped to a windowpane; a window at night, surrounded by Christmas lights. In these and many other paintings and drawings, Murphy transforms the bedrock bleakness of our daily life into something unforgettable."
Christopher Joy and Zachary Keeting talk with Catherine Murphy about the work in her exhibition Catherine Murphy: Recent Work at Peter Freeman, Inc., New York, on view through April 27, 2013.
Murphy discusses her process and how she came to care "about the whole surface." She explains: "It's a kind of way of seeing that I linger, I linger, I linger, I linger, so that makes… a flat painting. If you don't decide you're going to focus your attention in one place, you're going to end up making a painting that's flat." She continues: "So I think my paintings are flat… even though there's this detail, there's an equal detail throughout the whole painting. That's always what interested me, even when I was a very young painter… I decided if I was going to talk about paintings in which you were seeing reality… talk about the act of observation, I had to get closer to how I observed rather than just use as a model how everyone else observed. In so doing I realized that there's two things, there's what I'm looking at and there's this rectangle and they have to come into harmony…"
John Yau blogs about the work of Catherine Murphy, on view at Peter Freeman, Inc., New York thorugh April 27, 2013.
Yau writes: "Murphy doesn’t generalize, doesn’t develop shorthand for her subjects, doesn’t use paint in any way that announces painterliness or style. Rather, she does something far more difficult and demanding — she remains devoted to her subject, however plain and ordinary. And if the subject requires that Murphy paint layers of flesh-colored tissue paper or flakes of falling snow seen through a window on a windy night, then she will take up the challenge. Think of all the artists who become content to produce examples of their brand with just the right little twist. There is none of that in this exhibition. Every painting and drawing is distinct, no variations."
In the video below, produced by the museum, Murphy comments on her desire to make paintings that function simultaneously as abstraction and representation:
"I really want to think about the painting as both an object - à la Robert Ryman, modernists, the minimalists - and a vehicle for information. I want to talk about the painting being able to simultaneously do both of those things, because our brains can do that, our brains can sustain both of those ideas... I'm not trying like a Renaissance artist to get you into the painting and make you thing that, in fact, it's reality. I'm trying to get you in the painting and remind you that it's a painting at the same time. I want to sustain this fiction... all the time."
Yau writes that the show presents "11 paintings by artists committed to working from observation. Chronologically, the artists span five decades (or generations), with Lois Dodd and Lennart Anderson, born respectively in 1927 and 1928, being the oldest. The youngest include Gideon Bok, Anna Hostvedt, Sangram Majumdar and Cindy Tower, with Bok and Tower born in the 1960s, and Hostevedt and Majumdar born in the 1970s. The other artists are Susanna Coffey, Rackstraw Downes, Stanley Lewis, Catherine Murphy, and Sylvia Plimack Mangold, who were born between 1938 and 1949. Together, these artists — a number of whom have been influential teachers — suggest that observational painting is a vigorous, various, and imaginative enterprise that continues to fly under the radar."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.