According to Norman Bryson, still life painting is “at a level of existence where events are not at all large-scale, momentous events of History, but the small-scale, forgettable acts of bodily survival and self-maintenance”. It is with this thought in mind that I painted flowers, in part as a form of self-maintenance; and as impeachment trials lead to a global pandemic and racial justice protests, the paintings grew to respond to the events of history unfolding, through the overlooked and humble still life.
My oil on paper flower paintings are compositions based on familiar and shared cultural artifacts. Vowing to paint one a week during the impeachment trial I frequented Trader Joe’s and other grocery stores to purchase flowers and the vases I purchased at Ikea, West Elm and second hand stores. These artifacts are steeped in cultural ideas of beauty, class and domestic space through their commercial accessibility and price point; some are mass produced and inexpensive while others are unique and or “designer”. While painting these I realized that I tapped into a collective desire for some form of comfort in troubled times, at the same time, also challenging the historic bias against flower paintings/still life as a less serious art form.
The two large oil on wood panel flower paintings include tributes to individuals whose lives had become public through their own acts or the acts of others perpetrated against them. Wanting to address the power of the individual and the collective, the flower arrangements; large, diverse, symbolic and larger than life, are still life paintings that paint a portrait of “momentous events of history” while honoring the individual whose private life became public. The paintings harken back to baroque still life painting, employing symbolism and color devices that create austere arrangements imbued with cultural signifiers and timely juxtapositions between individual and group, personal and public, joyous and sad.
The mixed media paintings are the first of the flower paintings I made. The collage of fabric, against the painted trompe l'oeil “fabric”, relief print ink on paper windows and oil painted vase combine to make a composite “home”, mirroring my private life at the time where I felt displaced through a series of moves from state to state to follow work. The vase with flowers is a symbol of myself in an unfamiliar setting, not unlike the hand painted name tributes in the subsequent iterations of flower paintings, names of people whose lives took on a public identity as cultural influencers or agents of change. #saytheirname
"My multidisciplinary figurative work focuses on the intersection of class, power and gender. The figures in my paintings range from dollar store knick-knacks of ballerinas and women of leisure, global news images of protests and material culture, such as dresses, that shape our view of femaleness.
Margaret Murphy, 2018
The concerns in my work have always been based on my observations on class, consumerism, religion and gender. For a decade I worked with mass-produced figurines. I started noticing the figurines in the dollar stores that are abundant in my working class neighborhood in Jersey City. I purchased a few porcelain ballerinas and quickly realized that the cheaply made knick-knacks of sweet 16’s, women of leisure and erotic dancers did not reflect the women I saw in my neighborhood. Mass produced, diminished and useless these figurines reflected a societal view of women as good or bad, pious or promiscuous. This dichotomy of women as only performing one of two roles is at the core of my figurine paintings. The curator Rocio Aranda Alvarado wrote of my figurative work, “While American painters of the 1960s were heralding the design and appeal of American consumer products, Murphy’s paintings address objects that abound as a result of globalization.” This is equally true of my toile news based work that I began as a result of global information reaching me at home and often catching me off guard.
The figure is a constant element in my work to speak about my concerns but it is not the traditional artist/model relationship. The figures in my paintings range from dollar store knick-knacks to news images of real life people who are protesting injustices such as the kidnapping of three hundred young girls in Nigeria to the rape and death of a young Indian girl on a bus coming home from a movie. My most recent paintings are images of dresses. Simultaneously optimistic and sorrowful these paintings speak about what it means to be a girl.