… If, as de Kooning once said, “Flesh was the reason why oil painting was invented,” then the skins of Murray’s canvases, blemishes and all, are among the most vibrant and “lived” of any to be found in American art …
This is from the book that accompanied her MoMA retrospective; Elizabeth Murray by Robert Storr (2005):
But after all, the aim of art is to create space — space that is not compromised by decoration or illustration, space in which the subjects of painting can live. — Frank Stella, Working Space, 1986
… Speaking of her own efforts and to an extent of her immediate circle’s, Murray is explicit about her ambition — that is the only word — to resist being sucked into the wake of the prevailing discourses:
I think it was more like “anti-issue.” I think there has been so much repression in the name of issues. There always has been. I don’t mean that I feel like this dummy, that those types of ideas don’t come up for me. But I felt very, very strongly at that moment that I wasn’t involved with issues, that issues were being taken care of by other people. The paintings did have a look but I wasn’t connecting them to other work.
[line break added] This was a very strong time for Minimal and constructivist art, and I connected myself to that but … I didn’t feel like I was doing anything in terms of trying to show people what a painting could look like, or make an original kind of painting that was the first kind of painting that you could do, or a painting that was about nothing. None of those things were the least bit interesting to me.
[ … ]
… In her work as in his [de Kooning’s] studio cuisine is eagerly sacrificed to the will to make an image stick, to imbue color with substance, and to give the aggregate of the artist’s empirical deliberations the requisite density and monumentality. That the effects may not always be subtle or the transitions between them smooth — matte and shiny patches coincide, welts and ridges erupt in what might have been a uniform sheet of pigment — is a price willingly paid for energetic immediacy.
[line break added] If, as de Kooning once said, “Flesh was the reason why oil painting was invented,” then the skins of Murray’s canvases, blemishes and all, are among the most vibrant and “lived” of any to be found in American art, and by the same token among the most authentically and unapologetically human.
… In charting the matrix from which Murray’s most significant formal achievements emerged, there is one last element that resonates sympathetically with the pneumatic shapes of Guston and Oldenburg, like bunched soapsuds. That is New York graffiti circa 1980.
… Prepared by her own experience and enthusiasms — Oldenburg’s inflated texts in the posters he designed for The Store anticipated what was going on in the streets by almost two decades — Murray seized on the potential of bubble-writing and quickly assimilated it into her art. A photograph of a graffiti drawing of a coffee cup is still pinned to the wall of her studio today, not as a specific source — glasses and cups had long been her images — but as an example of the confirming dialogue she carried on with her guerrilla-art peers
[line break added] On a related score, it is noteworthy that the title Stella gave to the published version of his 1983-84 Norton Lectures at Harvard University, from which comes the epigraph to this chapter, appears in his book in a photograph showing the phrase “working space” spray-painted on a wall in the same puffy letters.