Elizabeth Murray

Elizabeth Murray, American abstract artist (1940 - 2007) really inspires you to challenge the space that a painting exists on or in. Her paintings arguably cross the boundaries between sculpture, applied art as well as painting its self.

For me her work is not so much painted but 'made'. Take for example Terrifying Terrain. It explodes into view, not confined within a rectangle or a square. Though the jagged shape looks random it really is not. Every angle is considered and there is a balance to the overall form. It is more a sculpture than a painting.

Elizabeth Murray (1989 - 90)


Murray applies paint like melted wax, a critic one stated. The paint and colour choices are sensuous. Inviting you in, ready to swallow you up. There is a wonderful tactile quality to her work. The paint is applied thickly, similar to impasto. Her canvases are constructed and layered - overlapping in some pieces.

Murray's work possesses a ceramic quality. As though her pieces have been raku or smoke fired. The end result is a breath taking roller coaster of colour and texture. Every time you look at a piece by Murray you discover something new. Her images last long in the memory.

My Manhattan, January 1987

Influences and Philosophy

"(Murray) reshaped Modernist abstraction into a high-spirited, cartoon-based, language of form whose subjects included domestic life, relationships and the nature of painting itself..." (http://arh481sp09.wikifoundry.com/page/Elizabeth+Murray#:~:text=In%20her%20first%20mature%20pieces,pop%20out%20at%20the%20viewer. , date accessed: 09/01/2020)

Murray's work, particularly in the 70's and 80's is influenced a lot by Pop Art, traces of Claes Oldenburg can be seen in here work. Murray often revisit's themes such as kitchen utensils, coffee cups - even maps. Cubism and Surrealism are also strong influences - the way Murray pulls apart forms, stretching their dimensions and altering the perspective. In her later work, the shaped canvases, she carries over this altering of perspective and form to beyond the conventional rectangular form of the painting its self. The dream like quality, a hallmark of Surrealism, is also evident in her later pieces and is what first drew me to her work - the masterly combination of colour, form and tone sucking you in. The experience is not always pleasurable - for me there is something quietly unsettling about her work. A disruption of the status-quo - stunning, and beautiful her work is - it is always challenging you to question, even if you don't want to! Wiggle Manhattan, 1992 is an example of this.

"We view a map as an exact measurement of space but Murray throws us, as viewers, off by bending, breaking, and curving the lines to form a type of abstract representation", (http://arh481sp09.wikifoundry.com/page/Elizabeth+Murray#:~:text=In%20her%20first%20mature%20pieces,pop%20out%20at%20the%20viewer. , date accessed: 09/01/2020).

Murray exhibits in her work two key aspects, the joy of painting and drawing for its own sake. The ability to take the every-dayness of her subjects and articulate her response so succinctly within them - pushing objects and concepts to the extreme and asking the viewer 'what if?' and 'why?'. Murray invites you to draw your own conclusions in an unpretentious manner, sometimes you can arrive that conclusion straight away. Other times it can take longer, which makes me keep coming back for more and looking again and again at her work. You always find something new.