Books | Catherine Murphy

Artwork: Elena, Harry and Alan in the Backyard (detail), 1978, oil on canvas, 39 5/8 x 45 3/8 in.

Also: Exhibit | Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible

The book features more than 100 paintings and drawings organized by decade, giving us an intimate look at the artist as she reaches maturity. In a self-portrait dated 1973, we see Murphy at her canvas, giving us a straightforward, and unvarnished view that depicts the artist as worker. Her works from this time show us the views of her world, interiors, window views, garden scenes. We can easily imagine her at the easel, capturing the warm yet solemn beauty of the every day.

Bedside Still Life, 1982, oil on canvas, 27 x 19 in.

In the 1980s, we see Murphy advance, as she employs a new, more graphic way of looking at her world. The compositions are fresh, and here is an edge that didn’t exist in the earlier works. The result is a compelling, giving us another level of insight. There is a specificity to these images that provokes a heightened sense of curiosity. Murphy’s framing draws us in, inviting us to nose around, as perfectly illustrated by Bedside Still Life (1982), which features a classic fleshtone rotary phone and a stack of TV Guides as well as all sorts of over the counter and prescription medications. Murphy restores a sense of wonder and inquisitiveness to the familiar elements of daily life.

But it was the 1990s where Murphy launched ahead, going in for a close up that brought the mundane into sharp focus, and lingers there relentlessly. Persimmon (1991) never flinches from its intent. Here we see the discontented mouth of an older white woman, shriveled after years of use. A sharp red lipstick alternately lines her lips perfectly, and bleeds into her flesh. There’s a kind of disturbance in the image, not just in the concept but in the execution; the photographic realness makes it feel that much more intense: this wasn’t a momentary click of the shutter but rather a painting that took much longer to create. The density of this experience appears in these works, in their insistence of being given their due as worthy, even venerable subjects.

Persimmon, 1991, oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 29 1/2 in.

By the 2000s, Murphy was moving away from a dependence on existing views. In an interview with Jennifer Samet, she observed, “One of the big breakthroughs for me was when I decided I could paint my dreams. It was like someone had let me out of prison. It meant that I set up the situations where I controlled the light.” The result was an entirely new and heightened experience of the familiar details of modern life. Murphy could become so close as to become abstract, or pull away just enough to create something more Pop. And it is to this in this space that she has come, literally “in your face.” And through it all, one can only wonder what she has planned next…

All artwork: ©Catherine Murphy, courtesy of Skira Rizzoli.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.