Murray's Edgy Art Masked Deeper Struggle

Elizabeth Murray i i

Elizabeth Murray drew inspiration from Cezanne, Picasso and Jackson Pollock, and from cartoons and comic books. Christopher Felver/Corbis hide caption

itoggle caption Christopher Felver/Corbis
Elizabeth Murray

Elizabeth Murray drew inspiration from Cezanne, Picasso and Jackson Pollock, and from cartoons and comic books.

Christopher Felver/Corbis
Elizabeth Murray's 1999 painting 'Cup in the Door' i i

Murray's 1999 work "Cup in the Door" was painted with oil on canvas. She often painted chairs, feet, coffee cups, dresses and spoons. Ellen Page Wilson/Courtesy of Pace Wildenstein, New York hide caption

itoggle caption Ellen Page Wilson/Courtesy of Pace Wildenstein, New York
Elizabeth Murray's 1999 painting 'Cup in the Door'

Murray's 1999 work "Cup in the Door" was painted with oil on canvas. She often painted chairs, feet, coffee cups, dresses and spoons.

Ellen Page Wilson/Courtesy of Pace Wildenstein, New York
Elizabeth Murray's 'Lost Hat' i i

Many of Murray's works often seemed like they were coming out of the wall. Her 1985 work "Lost Hat" was painted with oil on canvas. Ellen Labenski/Courtesy of Pace Wildenstein, New York hide caption

itoggle caption Ellen Labenski/Courtesy of Pace Wildenstein, New York
Elizabeth Murray's 'Lost Hat'

Many of Murray's works often seemed like they were coming out of the wall. Her 1985 work "Lost Hat" was painted with oil on canvas.

Ellen Labenski/Courtesy of Pace Wildenstein, New York

In Elizabeth Murray's bold paintings, tables are spiky, coffee cups have attitude and hats are larger than life.

The renowned painter, who died this week at 66, focused many of her colorful paintings on domestic objects — but they had an edge. Murray's friends in the art world say that the edginess reflected a long struggle in the art world.

Murray was born in Chicago in 1940 to a working-class family that struggled to make ends meet. A teacher encouraged her to go to art school, and she eventually attended the Art Institute of Chicago and Mills College in Oakland, Calif. But she faced prejudice because of her class and gender.

Robert Storr, the Dean of the Yale School of Art who curated Murray's 2005-06 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, says Murray's work masked her anger.

"There's a great deal of pain and a great deal of tragedy and a great deal of anger in her work," he says. "So she expresses that anger and that pain in forms that seem kind of comfortable ...when you get close to them you realized that they can bite."

Murray drew inspiration from Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock, and from cartoons and comic books. Many of her paintings literally jumped out of the wall with bulging canvases that pushed into galleries. In the late 1960s and early '70s, female artists such as Nancy Graves hid their gender to get ahead in the art world. But Murray's subject matter made it harder to conceal her identity because it was drawn from domestic life. Indeed, family life was central for Murray, who married twice and had three children.

Murray's fans say that in the 1970s, she helped reinvigorate the art of painting at a time when sculpture was in. She was also an inspiration for many women who followed in her footsteps. Kathy Halbreich, director of the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis, curated Murray's first big show in 1988 at the Dallas Museum of Art. She says that Murray changed her life.

"She gave a lot of women a sense of possibility," Halbriech says. "It was just about being grounded. It was about caring about family. It was about caring for friends. It was about caring about making art because it was an important thing to do and meaningful thing to do."

Murray died of complications from lung cancer at her home in upstate New York.

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