Who was Elizabeth Murray? 3 Things You Should Know About The Genre-Bending Artist


Celebrated Post-Minimal painter Elizabeth Murray (1940-2007) created vibrant, kinetic works that pushed back against the parsed down styles of Minimalism. Murray moved to New York in the fall of 1967 after receiving her BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA at Mills College in Oakland, California, where she began to hone her skills in experimenting with eccentric forms. After her first exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1971, Murray went on to receive a MacArthur Fellowship in 1999, and in 2005, she became the fifth woman ever to be given a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.

Elizabeth Murray with one of her paintings. Photo Credit: © 2003 Sidney B. Felsen

Murray’s remarkable career is chronicled in American Masters: Everybody Knows…Elizabeth Murray as part of the series’ Artists Flight, which also features documentaries on groundbreaking visual artists Eva HesseAndrew Wyeth and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Here are three interesting aspects of the life of Murray, a genre-bending artist who played by her own rules.

She always knew she wanted to be an artist
Murray knew she wanted to be an artist from a young age and spent an enormous amount of time drawing as a child. According to an obituary in The New York Times, she once sent a book of sketches to Walt Disney, accompanied by a letter inquiring about a job as his secretary. Later in elementary school, she earned extra pocket money selling racy drawings to classmates for 25 cents.

Cézanne was a major inspiration
When she first started at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in 1958, Murray intended to study commercial drawing. But she said that a Cézanne still life that she walked by regularly at school inspired her to pursue a career in painting.

But she learned her techniques from de Kooning
While Murray admired Cézanne’s use of color and application, it was by studying the work of de Kooning that brought out the energetic techniques for which she’s known. “There’s something about his work of the early ’60s — the way he got paint to move across the canvas, the way he used his brush — it’s almost as if he was expressing words with paint. De Kooning could make his paintbrush say or do anything.”

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