If Murray’s passionate politics entered her work in a dreamy, subtle manner (she was also an extensive dream journaler), she was very vocal at home. “At the dinner table, recalls her older daughter Sophie Ellsberg, “we definitely talked about politics. We didn’t really talk about her art.” She remembers her parents bringing her along to WAC protests, the women wearing pink slips to protest the GOP. Murray worked in her home studio on a strict schedule, and she sometimes let Ellsberg and her sister help her spray paint her work; motherhood informed, not inhibited, her paintings.
Jones connects the paintings’ sensuality and Murray’s role as a mother. Just In Time (1981), celebrates the summer she fell in love with her second husband, poet Bob Holman. “The sexual nature of the painted images then is also invested in their imagined fecundity,” Jones notes. While there’s plenty of conflict in the subsequent works (fissures, spills, messiness), there’s also a celebration—particularly in Murray’s repeated, embryonic bean forms—of life begetting life.
Through researching and cataloguing Murray’s work, Andrew hopes to build momentum and a new context for the artist—and he wants to offer younger artists visceral experiences with the colossal, highly textured works. The Canada show similarly appealed to younger artists. Andrew mentions painters
as part of a new generation who clearly look to Murray for inspiration. I asked Andrew why he thought the list of acolytes skewed female. “I feel like women artists are more free about being able to speak about who they’re inspired by,” he says. “Their male counterpoints still seem to want to claim ingenuity or originality.”
Murray’s legacy, too, is at the mercy of American cultural values. In the 1980s,
was dating Madonna, partying with
’s glamorous coterie, and indulging in the drug habit that would lead to his untimely death.
was breaking plates and living large. Violence and masculinity were often central to the celebrated
paintings of the day; Murray’s life and work stood in contrast to this sensationalism. “I think in a way she was expressing her femininity,” says Andrew about the artist’s work in the ’80s. “Murray was giving birth, she was having a family—and she was painting.”