Saturday, January 21, 2017

Elizabeth Murray

Elizabeth Murray
visits Rochester Institute of Technology
Photo by Sue Weisler

I have been reading about the artist Elizabeth Murray ( 1940-2007 ) in newsletters and in the New York Times.  There have been some new shows of her work ( currently on view is a show of her drawings in NYC ) as well as a documentary film about her life ( Everybody Knows...Elizabeth Murray ).  So, this flurry of interest in her work brings me back ten years when I was reading about her death from cancer just prior to her 67th birthday.

Elizabeth Murray in the 1980's

Elizabeth Murray was one of the artists whose work I followed closely in the 1980's when I lived in New York City, and since I was a painter, I was interested and challenged by what she had accomplished and I tried to do the same in my own artwork.  Elizabeth Murray had children and her daughter was in the same graduating class as my nephew David Singer, so after the graduation ceremony near Lincoln Center, I walked up to Elizabeth Murray and invited her to come upstate to speak with my students at R.I.T., and she graciously accepted.

Elizabeth Murray created art for the NYC subway 59th Street

Before Elizabeth Murray came to speak about her artwork, and also look at my student's work, I arranged for her to give a talk at The Memorial Art Gallery, a fine museum here in Rochester, New York. At that stage I did not know yet that the Museum of Modern Art was planning a career survey for her that would take place in 2006 in New York City.

Elizabeth Murray print in 2000

Talking with Elizabeth on the phone to make her plane reservation, she was in the middle of jury duty, so she had some time to plan ahead.  She told me of some prints she had worked on that revolved around a hospital stay.  When I saw the print she was talking about I bought a copy ( see above ) and I have it in my office to this day.  It does reference blood vessels, and I didn't make the connection that maybe she was experiencing some questions about her own mortality.

Elizabeth Murray visits the School of Art at R.I.T.
Fall, 2002

When Elizabeth landed in Rochester, I picked her up at the airport and we spent a busy day at R.I.T. working with my students, after giving them a short talk about her own paintings.  Later, she drew a large crowd at the Memorial Art Gallery, and she told her story about her life in the art world.  The audience had the chance to see her develop as an artist and witness the energy that her artwork exudes.

Elizabeth Murray , "The Lowdown "
oil on canvas, 2001

Now, reading about the news of her shows and the films made about her life, I can reflect on that short time we spent together 15 years ago.  We took her out to dinner, and she stayed at my house - she was right at home.  When I took her back to the airport for her flight home, I gave her a big hug, and I realized at the time that she was thin and maybe a bit exhausted.

I was glad that she had the chance to plan and see her own retrospective, and to take a well deserved moment in the spotlight.  It was a time I am sure that she could take pride in all that she accomplished, and provided a marker for where she still had the urge to go with her art, even if it was within the quiet realm of her studio, alone with her paints and brushes.

Elizabeth Murray talks with my student Lila 
at R.I.T. in 2002