Elizabeth Murray

Elizabeth Murray

Cast-a-way, 1992

Oil on canvas, wood


73.25 in. x 78 in. x 5 in. (186.06 cm x 198.12 cm x 12.7 cm)

Gift of Kitty and Herb Glantz

Best known for her fragmented and shaped canvases, Elizabeth Murray’s approach is neither fully abstract, nor representational. Rather, her works probe the relationship between flatness and three-dimensionality and occupy a middle ground between painting and sculpture. In Cast-a-way, Murray employs a distinctive formal language and spatial presence that surfaces painting’s relationship to the body. Elements of painting project dramatically from the wall, invading the space of the viewer and altering the conventional terms of perceptual exchange. Cast-a-way is composed of two canvases, their respective jagged edges imply a singular broken form, as well as a series of painted wooden forms that project from and connect the two main components.

Murray’s work is often populated with forms that allude to everyday objects, body parts, wounds, and organs—an imagery that is charged with tensions of sexuality, humor, and violence. In Cast-a-way, three-dimensional rope-like forms project away from the canvas and curl whimsically into knots, while certain pieces seem to detach, appearing to levitate in space. The stark green ground dominates the visual feed but gives way to electric blue forms that seem to open mysterious cavities. From these symbolic openings, as we navigate Murray’s imagery and her embedded narrative, spring shriveled hands or feet. Molded from crumpled canvas, the appendages fold flatly over and seem to grasp for rectangular shapes. Gestural brushstrokes emanate from the projective forms and figurative holes and, with the swirling fragments of rope, set Cast-a-way in a state of unsettled motion.

Building Number: 46

Accession Number: 2001.001 a-c

Audio Transcript

Elizabeth Murray once said she needed to make paintings that would blow up in space. The jumble of domestic objects in this still life, Castaway, from 1992, indeed resemble happy homemaking moments gone awry. Set against a garish green canvas with sharp teeth-like edges and ropey appendages, the coffee cup and table appear to be anything but domestic comforts. With her multipart eccentrically formed canvases, Murray literally reshaped abstraction, working against the reductivism of minimalism.

Early in her career, she created cartoon-like paintings, and that influence is felt in works like this one. She also incorporated lessons from Cubism, fragmenting and compressing her subject matter. The fractured planes distorted forms, and expressive brushstrokes endow this domestically-themed work with an underlying psychological tension.

Murray contended that she painted the stuff of her own life. She said, "My paintings are often strange, and sometimes show me a side of myself-- a violence and physicality that scares me. It's not always pleasant or easy. I don't always like it. And really, when I do them, it's a journey."