Unreal Nature

September 19, 2016

Every Aspect

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… the work was a composite “thing,” of which the painted facade was only the most visible dimension.

Continuing through the book that accompanied her MoMA retrospective; Elizabeth Murray by Robert Storr (2005):

… While rehearsing arguments based on Renaissance, Mannerist, and Baroque paradigms for opening up abstraction to the pictorial depth that formalists had so long deemed anathema, Stella makes this aside: “In addition to volume and interior space, abstraction must pick up on another aspect of illusionism: its success at caricature, at catching everyday associations, recognizable sparks of life.” That is as good a definition of what Murray had achieved by 1985 as any that one can think of. But she had only begun to map the ups and downs of the territory that spread out before her.

… As violent as things could get, Murray had found a means of holding the world together. The tug-of-war between dissolution and cohesion is her fundamental subject; her work is an object lesson in how ingenuity, indifference to theoretical “musts” and “shoulds,” irrepressible but often sardonic humor, and utter seriousness about the stakes for art can lead out of the cul de sacs into which painting has been prone to wander in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.


… If her procedures were initially a relatively simple matter of torqueing and layering her panels, by the middle of the decade she was engaged in a phased, laborious process of conceiving and fabricating the support that preceded but always anticipated the actual painting process.

Roughly speaking, the stages went from small, loose notebook sketches and more worked-out drawings to small reliefs made of unfired clay on a stiff mount. (A friend of the artist’s once said that “Elizabeth has a mud-pie approach to life.” The strength of that hands-on-who-cares-about-the-mess approach is most vivid in these maquettes, and in the act of painting itself.) Next the image was blown up into more precise contour drawings, templates for carpenters who, under Murray’s supervision, used them to cut the basic forms out of plywood.

[line break added] Built up in layers, these plywood sheets were subsequently beveled, chiseled, and planed to arrive at and refine the swell and curve of the irregular volumes of the clay maquettes. The frequently rough facture of these elaborate supports testifies to the improvisation that continued throughout their evolution, and to Murray’s preference for muscularity and immediacy over standard shop finishes.

Once the support was realized to Murray’s satisfaction (though surgery was occasionally done later on), canvas was stretched over and stapled onto it. Rather than folding the canvas around the side of each unique stretcher, thereby obscuring its vertical “foundation,” Murray, following the precedent of Gorchov, often left the edges of the support exposed, underscoring the fact that the work was a composite “thing,” of which the painted facade was only the most visible dimension.

[line break added] Her habit of letting the separate layers of paint show along that same edge — one presumably picked up from Johns and Marden, whose early works often feature bare canvas and drips at the bottom margin — carried that lesson farther. In Murray’s case, though, this awareness of the object’s constituent materialities went to extremes rarely witnessed before, since the surface qualities of the painted coats ranged from drizzly to riverbed dry, from pavement gritty to beat-up-leather-jacket smooth.

… every aspect of the painting that one can see is truly there to be seen and to contribute to the overall perceptual experience, and so to the work’s meaning — which in part consists of reminding the viewer of his or her own lumpy, perhaps lopsided physicality.

My most recent previous post from Storr’s book is here.




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