More on Murray

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The Lowdown, Murray, 2001 — Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno, Generalitat Valenciana

Ok, lets finish up the Elizabeth Murray train of thought I started Wednesday, about the extraordinary number of influences that went into producing her pictures.

At the Art Institute of Chicago, where Murray was a student in the late 1950s, she fell in love with DeKooning’s pivotal abstraction, Excavation. All the thrusting, elbowing, push-pull forms that DeKooning dug up for that painting got buried back into her unconscious, later to burst out in the spring loaded space of her own work. She once told Michael Kimmelman, the chief art critic of The New York Times, that “I would leave my painting classes sometimes and run upstairs to the galleries to check out that painting, and literally dash back with it visualized in my mind to try to replicate that stroke on canvas.”

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Excavation, De Kooning, 1950 — The Art Institute of Chicago

Stuart Davis is an artist Murray once said she never thought of as a plain influence, but it’s hard to look at her work and not think of his. So much of what he did in the 1920s through the ’50s predicts what she did decades later, which was to combine Cubist space with Pop references. His thrusting, fractured, party-colored planes are obvious predicates to her own, even if she didn’t see it that way.

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Colonial Cubism, Davis, 1944 — Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minn.

And his phenomenal 1938 mural Swing Landscape is an obvious forerunner of Murray’s wonderful late work, like The Lowdown and Do the Dance.

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Swing Landscape, Davis, 1938 — Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington.

The late 60s, when Murray was still working her way thorugh various early styles, was also the moment when Philip Guston made his famous return to figurative painting in a cartoonish style that owed something to R. Crumb. As Murray herself once acknowledged, his inventory of bean shapes, even his preoccupation with shoes, seeped into her own work.

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Pit, Guston, 1976 — National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

One artist whom Murray has cited repeatedly for having a big influence on her thinking about the space of the canvas is Ron Gorchov and his saddle canvases of the 1970s and 80s, which bowed out from the wall. She first saw them in 1976, around the time of her first forays into shaped canvas.

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Ulysses, Gorchov, 1979 — Courtesy Julian Schnabel

Then there’s the question of Frank Stella. In an interview that she gave to Rob Storr a few years ago when he was preparing her retrospective at MoMA in New York, Murray said that she had seen the show at Leo Castelli in 1975 at which Stella first exhibited his painted steel wall pieces. “I thought they were fantastic and really wild,” she said. But she also insisted to Storr that she felt that Stella’s work had nothing to do with her own. Maybe. Let’s just say that the idea of breaking out of the picture plane was very much in the air in the mid-70s, and Murray and Stella were both thinking along similar lines.

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La Vecchia dell’Orto, Stella, 1986 — Centre Pompidou, Paris

Something else you couldn’t avoid in New York in the ’70s was subway graffiti. Murray told Storr that while she often just thought of graffiti as vandalism, she couldn’t help but be excited sometimes by “those big bloopy shapes.”

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Subway car graffiti — graffiti.org

I could go on. I haven’t even mentioned Al Held and Brice Marden, both of whom Murray frequently cited. Or Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, whose work in the 80s had a similar buzz to it. But you get the picture — Murray’s work was a very sophisticated synthesis of multiple inspirations. They brought her to a place where she could reconcile the fractured planes of Cubism with the biomorphic swells of Surrealism, which opened the way to paintings that were both dreamlike and wildly energetic. Though it’s a game we all love to play, it’s hard to know which painters the future will think highly of. But I’m putting a big bet on her.

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