Her Story embraces the geometric. The abstract work is composed of three angular canvases conceived together as one. Dissident triangles and rectangles are placed throughout the composition and painted in bright blues, greens, reds, purples, yellows and oranges. The layered canvases pop the painting out from laying flat against the wall and give the work a sculptural quality.

This brightly painted work was created in 1984 by Elizabeth Murray (American, 1940-2007). She was known for her shaped canvases that took the seriousness out of art. She wanted her works to be fun and found inspiration in cartoons. As we look at this work, the bright colors immediately brings  playfulness to her work and the geometric patterns give it movement.

Her Story also confronts numerous styles that came before it. There is Cubism (the deconstruction of the canvas in three parts), Surrealism (biomorphism of the shapes)  and Pop (a sense of irreverence). She mixes them together to create her own funky work that tilts art history on its head. Reflecting on her influences Murray once stated, “Everything has been done a million times. Sometimes you use it and it’s yours; another time you do it and it’s still theirs.” It is a nudge that perhaps we should only see Murray in Her Story rather than constantly comparing her work to what came before.

Everything has been done a million times. Sometimes you use it and it’s yours; another time you do it and it’s still theirs.

Elizabeth Murray

Murray was born in Chicago in 1940 and grew up in Bloomington, Indiana. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and moved to New York City in 1967. One of her paintings was chosen for the Whitney Annual in 1972, which was something of a breakthrough for her. She had her first exhibition at the Paula Cooper Gallery in 1974. By the time this work was painted in 1984 she was at a high point in her career. It was the year she received the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award, was in a group exhibition of five artists at the Whitney, and a solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

At the time the art critic Roberta Smith wrote about Murray’s work stating, “In assessing the artists individually, the bottom line is that none of them is as accomplished at this stage as Elizabeth Murray, currently working at the top of her form. . . Her work is ripe for a mid-career museum survey.”

Her Story reveals to the viewer Murray’s own visual voice, telling her story in her own abstract, vibrant way.

– Sarah McMillan