Movement: Modernist Abstraction
Education: School of the Arts Institute of Chicago
“New York Dawn,” 1977
“Children Meeting,” 1978
“Small Town,” 1980
“Lost Hat,” 1985
“War and Peace,” 1987
“Wiggle Manhattan,” 1992
Elizabeth Murray was an American painter and printmaker, best known for her contribution to the Neo-Expressionist movement of the 1970s. Her buoyant imagery and rejection of the rectangle as the only format for painting helped energize the medium in the years succeeding the Pop Art movement.
Born in Chicago in the autumn of 1940, Elizabeth Murray developed an inclination towards visual art at a young age. Upon graduating from high school in 1958, she was accepted into the Department of Painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from there in 1962. She subsequently traveled to San Francisco to pursue a master’s degree at Mills College. During her years at university, Murray was particularly impressed by the art of Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg, though the aesthetic influence of older Modernists like Cezanne is apparent in much of her student work. After completing her formal training in 1964, she remained in California for three years before moving to New York City, drawn to the energy and experimental scope of its art scene.
Upon her arrival in New York in the late 1960s, she discovered the extent and variety of Minimalist compositions and process work for the first time. Intrigued by her own bewilderment to the simplicity of Richard Serra and Brice Marden’s nouveau abstraction, she began experimenting with similar concepts within her own medium. It was a difficult period for the young artist, who was recently married and pregnant, and the climate of competition amongst her peers was intimidating. Confused about her individual vision and the direction of her work, she destroyed the majority of her canvases out of embarrassment over her creative struggles. Although she participated at the Whitney Annual Exhibition in 1971, it was not until 1978 that she developed the confidence required to truly engage with the art establishment and promote her fledgling projects. “Children Meeting,” completed in 1978, was a breakthrough in her professional career and received positive critique upon its debut for its depiction of personalities and pure emotion through non-representational line and shape.
Over the next decade, Murray began using shaped canvases to correspond with the subject matter of her compositions, creating an optical effect that seemed to eliminate the exterior edges of the work. In addition, she experimented with multiple canvases to produce a large-scale image, as in 1981’s “Painter’s Progress,” which consists of 19 individual parts. In 1998, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received a MacArthur Fellowship the following year. The grant provided her with the opportunity to open the Bowery Poetry Club, a performance art venue on the Lower East Side, with husband Bob Holman in 2002.
In the mid-noughties, a major retrospective of Murray’s career was organized by the Museum of Modern Art, making her the fifth woman to receive the honor since its inception in 1929. She passed away of lung cancer the following year, in 2007. She was survived by her husband and their three children.
1940 - Born in Chicago
1958 - Enrolls at the School of the Art Institute
1964 - Graduates from Mills College with an MA
1967 - Moves to New York
1971 - Participates at the Whitney Annual Exhibition
1986 - Awarded the Skowhegan Medal for Painting
1992 - Receives an honorary doctorate from the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago
1998 - Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1999 - Receives the MacArthur Fellowship; establishes the Bowery Poetry Club
2006 - Honored with a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art
2007 - Passes away of lung cancer
1975 - Jared Sable Gallery, Toronto
1976 - Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
1998 - John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco
2001 - Texas Gallery, Houston
2005 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
2009 - Arts Club of Chicago
2009 - Rosenbaum Contemporary, Boca Raton
Art Institute of Chicago
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
“Elizabeth Murray” by Robert Storr
“Painterly Photography: Awakening the Artist Within” by Elizabeth Murray