November 30, 2013

Margaret Murphy: Unavoidable truth

On Artfcity, Whitney Kimball observed, with some justification, that young artists these days seem broadly reluctant to incorporate confrontational political content into their work. But there are many salutary role models, from William Powhida and Jen Dalton to Marlene Dumas and Steve Mumford. Wedding heart and craft, Margaret Murphy should also be included on the list.

Margaret Murphy, Tell Your Son to Behave, 2013, acrylic, ink on fabric mounted on board, 14 x 14 inches.

Stressed out from the onslaught of horrendous news reports, Murphy tried to stop paying attention but soon realized how porous our homes have become since plugging into the Internet and social networking media. Every time she turned on the computer, she was bombarded by disturbing images, opinions, and unbearable news reports. In response, her new installation in Gallery Aferro's Project Room fuses wallpaper patterns, home decoration, and sewing projects with the current events that most unsettled her, including international women’s rights issues, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting.

Margaret Murphy @ Aferro Galery, installation view. Murphy created a freestanding version of a toile illustration and photographed people standing inside the frame holding protest signs. The signs are posted on the wall behind the piece.

In her new work, Murphy takes traditional toile fabric designs and swaps the central image with one depicting a devastating current event. Having painted large images of diminutive figurines for  years, Murphy is now creating three-dimensional tableaux and working with digital imagery. "I like the shift in presence from hand crafted to the mediated image," she told me when I visited her attic studio a few weeks before she installed the exhibition. "The combination allows more freedom to explore complex themes and juxtapositions."

At Aferro, Murphy presents a thought provoking series of small paintings, a site-specific silkscreened wall, and a handmade dress that her daughter,  Morgan Fernandez, designed and sewed using Murphy's original fabric. 

Margaret Murphy, Justice for Women NOW!, 2013, acrylic, ink on fabric mounted on board, 14 x 14 inches.

Hand made dress, a collaboration with Morgan Fernandez.

Margaret Murphy, Rape Bus, 2013, ink and acrylic paint on found fabric. 14 x 14 inches.

Murphy silkscreening the altered toile patterns on the wall at Aferro.

 A wall of paintings in Murphy's Jersey City studio.

 The view from her work table.

Hard to see it in this picture, but Murphy has an amazing view of Manhattan to the east. Sometimes it's hard to look away.
Of course, returning to the ArtFCity post mentioned at the top, an alternative reality might be that younger artists are making work with political content, but many commercial galleries and curators are reluctant to organize exhibitions with challenging substance. After all, wealthy collectors, comfortable with formal abstraction,  may not want to buy it.

"Toile News Project: Margaret Murphy," Gallery Aferro, Project Room, Newark, NJ. Through December 14, 2013.


Related posts:
Margaret Murphy presents "The Ballerina Project" at Pentimenti Gallery in Philadelphia (2007)
Micchelli: How art can effect political change (2009)


Hey Sharon,
Thanks for the response. I agree there are a good handful of artists making political work with attention to craft, like Molly Crabapple and Susan Hamburger. They seem to be working separately from the kind of formalist painting that hinges on aesthetic taste, though. It seems rare to see those two overlap imo..