Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s

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Elizabeth Murray, Druid, 1979. Oil on shaped canvas, 55 13/16 × 55 3/8in. (141.8 × 140.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz 99.147 © 2016 The Murray-Holman Family Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

Elizabeth Murray: I don’t like to have ideas when I begin to work, because if I got the idea before I start, it just feels like why do it? You know, I know what it is already!

Narrator: The forms and figures in Elizabeth Murray’s painting Druid seem to take part in a playful dialogue. Everything’s a little off-kilter, as if the participants in this imaginary conversation were trying to outdo each other’s surprises. Murray used the canvas to heighten this skewed effect. She explained her use of shaped canvases in a slide talk given at the Whitney in 1980, just a year after painting Druid. 

Elizabeth Murray: And I got involved in just having the eccentric shapes made to paint on. And I think it had very much to do with, one, I was bored with just painting on rectangles or squares. And also they change how the shape is on the wall a lot, they change the relationship to the wall, and it feels more organic to me right now. But also, there are just a lot more edges, kinds of ways of going off the canvas, off the painting. It feels like I can be either very conflicting, or I can be nice, or I can do a lot of different things. It feels like a wider range of mood or modality for expression.