Elizabeth Murray: A Painter's Painter
It wasn't until I read Michael Kimmelman's review in the Times this morning, however, that I realized that the 50% of those who loved her exhibition were mostly painters themselves. It's her focus on one exploration that Kimmelman highlights to begin his review, and it's this focus that provide clues into why she's so beloved by other pigment-on-canvas sorts:
She has pursued a problem partly inherited from Cubism, and filtered through Surrealism and comics. It is how to get movement (translating her absorption in the sensuous push and pull of pigment) into a static image - how to make a figurative painting, even when its subjects are inert objects like tables and glasses, convey instability, fracture, speed, collapse, explosion, thrust. This isn't a new problem, of course. Among others, Ms. Murray has had her great hero Cézanne to emulate.
Her inclination has been to nudge painting toward relief sculpture: to concoct and combine panels and shaped canvases that teem with goofy incident and stuff. What results can look as rickety as an old jalopy. Paint pools, congeals and drips. Sides and edges of canvases stay unfinished, like the backs of stage props, openly belying their ostensible illusions. You love them or not for their messiness.
Now I've argued for sometime that one of the advantages of Pluralism has been the carte blanche it gives artists to pick up on exploration threads dropped by previous generations (or at least dropped by the critique) because their movement had gone out of fashion. The fact that Murray never waited for the rise of Pluralism to do just that speaks volumes about her integrity as an artist. But I'm still trying to sort out what to make of the fact that the paintings in the exhibition I liked the most were some of her minimalistic earlier pieces, the ones, according to Kimmelman, she reports as being a struggle and not at all in line with her interests. I've said repeatedly that artists should focus on what they're interested in and, as best as they can, ignore what's fashionable if what's fashionable isn't what they do. Elizabeth Murray is a good example of an artist who learned that lesson and forged her own path.