New York City artist Elizabeth Murray was an abstract artist, who painted richly colored, cartoony, evocative paintings in her own innovative, loopy style on sculptural, custom-shaped, layered canvases. Murray’s eclectic influences included the Post-Impressionist paintings of Paul Cezanne, the shaped canvases and assemblages of Cubist artists, and the free-floating forms of Surrealism, found particularly in the paintings of Joan Miro.
Murray earned an M.F.A degree from Mills College in Oakland in 1964. Her work was selected for the Whitney Biennial of 1972. After a decade of experimenting in various painting styes, she concentrated on lush colors and biomorphic shapes as seen in such paintings as “Pink Spiral Leap” 1975. In the early 1980s, Murray broke with paintings’s conventional rectangular shape and began making curved, multiunit canvases. Sometimes she would beak up a single image across multiple canvases and reassemble them into dynamic figures.
Murray used a personal and female vocabulary of biomorphic forms that referenced the mundane world of kitchens and home life, allowing her to navigate a line between domesticity and abstraction. Her 1981 “Just in Time,'” an oil painting on two canvases, shows a giant coffee cup and saucer that looks as if it could be pulled apart because of the jagged breaks in its crockery. She has spoken of her use of drinking vessels in her works, and the cup is a recurring image for her. “Art is an epiphany in a coffee cup.”
Her early admiration for Walt Disney and his cartoons influenced her to use crisp outlines and exaggerated forms. She would humorously blow up common everyday objects but would color them with painterly brushwork, remaining committed to the touch of the artist’s hand and to the use of traditional materials.
Over time her painting surfaces became so large that some of her works were over 9 feet long. Some were shaped with upturned edges or bulges across the surface. Others were made from assembling the canvases together. There is a startling contrast between the enormous size of these canvases and their domestic emblems – tables and chairs, cups and spoons, keyholes, arms, and body parts. Starting in the 1980s, critics referred to her work as eloquent. Her subway installations are permanent fixtures: one in Manhattan and the other in Queens, N.Y.
In 1988, the Whitney Museum organized Murray’s first museum retrospective. She received a MacArthur Grant in 1999; had a major retrospective at New York’s MoMA, an honor given to only four other women at that time; and was included in a Venice Biennale.
Murray was given more than 50 solo exhibitions, and her art has been included in dozens of group shows since her 1972 debut in “Contemporary American Painting” at the Whitney Museum.