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MARGARET MURPHY
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ARTIST'S STATEMENT

My paintings, videos, and collages references themes that have stayed with me since childhood, the Catholic Church, class, consumerism and issues concerned with feminism as embodied by the Victorian wallpaper, textile design, and the objectified porcelain figurines that characterize much of my work.

My paintings are watercolor and acrylic. The combination of these two materials creates a visual juxtaposition of opaque and transparent, hard and soft, synthetic and naturalistic. This flux between figure and ground, static and fluid, minimal and decorative is an inherent element in my paintings.

My muses are porcelain figurines of women and animals that have appeared in most of my paintings. The female figurines represent the “woman” in a post-feminist analytical arena, one that has been objectified on many levels. In my work, she is returning home to be the voice, and the anchor point, for my public concerns regarding gender, class, consumerism, and beliefs. Just as women are objectified and sentimentalized in mass media, animals are often designated to fill a similar role. I use them in my work because they represent an attempt to control nature by diminishing the forms of natural beings and placing them, in miniature form, on a curio shelf for decoration. 

In recent paintings, I have used the figurine as a metaphor for physical change, loss, and perseverance. I would buy the figurines—which were very similar to the tchotzkes I remember many of the women collecting in my Irish Catholic, working-class neighborhood—at dollar stores, thrift stores, garage sales, or even on eBay. I am not emotionally bound to them, and therefore have no problem taking a hammer to them. The resulting fragments became the detritus with which I created my paintings. 

Increasingly, digital images are appearing in my work. I have always used the camera to photograph the figurines, print them, and use the photos as reference. I like the way the camera isolates the image, I can crop it, enlarge it, reduce, make lighter or darker. Much of my decision making process happens in this stage. Now I find video stills and digital photographs have taken on a more significant role in my work. I like the shift in presence from hand crafted to the mediated image. The combination allows me more freedom to explore complex themes and juxtapositions in my paintings and works on paper.

Inspiration for the visual elements in my work include Manet’s figurative compositions, Alex Katz’s paintings of Ada, Diane von Furstenberg’s prints, and John Water’s films, to name a few. I also look at domestic textile prints and wallpapers, Kurosawa films, tawdry consumer objects, advertising, and most recently news as seen from the safety of my computer.

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