Catherine Murphy: Recent Work
On ViewPeter Freeman, Inc.
November 12, 2021 – January 8, 2022
At the entrance to Peter Freeman, Inc. hangs a large green painting Begin Again (2019), showing a graphic depiction of a hand in five aspects—one approaching nearly photographic representation, and the four others, each in a slightly different pose, are blue line drawings all set against frumpy flocked, wallpaper that looks flat. Is this a still life, we wonder? Or are the hands about to act in some way? Will they play cards or clean the house or clear the garden or just be there? They’re surely not preparatory sketches. They have a declaratory, purposeful presence.
Murphy’s profoundly precise, deadpan depictions of all quotidian matter, from rags to trees, hair, doors, gratings, and even a camouflage blanket—often excerpts from artifacts and scenes—focus our attention on the power of the part in relation to the whole, the underlying tension between the two. We are left to wonder whether the part builds or undermines our perception of the entire picture.
Some of the most compelling of the works on view are details, such as the image of a figure seated cross-legged on the grass wearing green shorts and red sneakers, with a little photo on the ground in front of it, wittily titled Head to Toe (2018), since the only head in the picture is the one in the photo. Knees are cropped and the crossed legs divert our eyes to the subject’s crotch and the little triangle between them. Surprisingly, the photo is a remarkably specific woman’s face, which alters our sense of ambiguity, adding a touch of drama. At the same time, the figure could be a summer camper in a reminiscence.
Looking Down (2019) is a striking landscape of a body, Murphy’s we take it, with the figure peering down over the divide of her breasts, which are cosseted in fabric, and on to bent knees below, which pressed together echo the configuration of the breasts. It’s as if we were traversing two hills over a plateau ending at the base of two mountains. The graphite-on-paper drawing appears to squeeze together its components into a tight composition marked by the brilliant effect of light on the bosom in contrast with the dark-shadowed legs. There is a strangely provocative feeling in the absence of any discernible context for the picture.
Another graphite drawing, Night Watch (2018), shifts from the landscape of the body to that of the interior of a house. Here, expressionistic, cinematic angles draw us down into and through the house, establishing the depths of anxiety.
By contrast, Camo (2020) is dense with color and suggests three realities—a green forest, the reflection of its trees in water, and the back of a human figure wrapped in a camouflage covering, an ersatz version of nature. Here, the bright colors of the camo, rather than the stark dramatic angles of the Night Watch, are the source of unease and confusion as we try to determine which reality we are perceiving.
Also strangely compelling in a particularly formal way is the blue and yellow square painting called Prequel (2021), featuring a sketched circle in the middle of a canvas covering the pattern of wallpaper beneath it. The circle stops short of the edges of the square as if in an assessment of proportions—in this case, preparation for a full-fledged painting to follow, or the painting in advance of its content.
In the stunning, strikingly clear and direct painting Packed (2018), there is an implied narrative—a suitcase with two striped men’s shirts, one is green and white, the other, red and white. The image of the neatly folded shirts is disrupted by the suitcase straps strewn over the shirts. The trip might be impending, with anticipatory angst tossed in.
“Art is made from a conversation that you are having with art.” Murphy told Jennifer Samet in an interview. It’s an argument. We can witness the continual discussion in the selection here that includes still lifes, landscapes, and self-portraits. Their potency is forthright and unembellished. Nevertheless, they appear to harbor memories, apprehensions, dreams, and considerable nostalgia.