New York, NY 10012
September 22- November 3, 2001
A hand blocks the landscape view in Catherine Murphy’s painting “Backlit,” recalling a gesture familiar from celebrity sightings and crime scenes:’no pictures!’ The image of the hand, oversized and cropped at the frame, compels our interest. Backlit, the ridged flesh between thumb and forefinger is almost translucent, while the tilted columns of the fingers appear wittily massive and vibrant against the wisps of summer foliage behind them. The gold of the wedding ring is flecked with blue sky, the vertical lines of the stretched palm rhyme visually with the verticals of the grass and trees. Landscape and artisanal hand merge and separate, in a finely nuanced play on the Modernist dialectic of object and expectation-this is not a hand, yet it is.
Similarly, traces of a landscape show through the letters of “Cathy” (seen backwards) written on a fogged window, a beautifully immediate rendering of the frustration of peering through subjectivity to that which is being represented. Painting, in these works, seems haunted by an anticipatory nostalgia for the actual, the subject that constantly slips into change as the process-Murphy is known for taking months and years on her work-goes on. The crumbs scattered across a stained tablecloth in “The Windsor” suggest that if the artist at work must inevitably come late to the feast of sensual experience, this must suffice. And it does; the painting is at once intimate and forlorn, cerebral and keenly felt. Even paintings with a largely formal interest reveal an underlying tension.
The images of a hunting scene in”Wallpapered Corner” reverse and repeat on the vertical, playing abstractly on the geometric configurations of walls, trim and carpet, at the same time drawing us figuratively into a painted corner. But it is a lovely corner; why not stay there The puzzles of Murphy’s work are nearly as seductive as the sensuality of their color, yet in her drawings one sees that something else is at work that transcends both. “Swept up,” completed in 1999, gathers endless debates over representational art where they belong, in a carbon swirl of beautifully rendered dust. A drawing that nearly cost Murphy her eyesight asserts the exactitude and rigor of her vision.