TOWARD A SUPREME FICTION
 
RED, YELLOW, BLACK, WHITE
 

Judith Murray has deployed these colors for almost her entire career as a painter, they have been enough to convey, without the distraction of additional devices, a series of obsessions, enthusiasms and preoccupations — they themselves have been, in part, obsessions, enthusiasms, preoccupations — as she attempts to draw closer and closer to some more elemental image, some more authentic voice. Her palette has been straightforward; it has been mixed, modulated: the combinations are, of course, endless, as are the effects. Her early work was spare, assertive, its empty fields inhabited by a few hard-edged geometric figures that suggested exotic sea creatures or decadent, even dangerous plants, spiked by thin, bladed arcs, leafed by daggers. Blood reds, opaque, luminous whites, corrupt yellows against sensuous black grounds with no tinge of green or blue, no concession to the natural world except as imaginative correlatives, they were images that emerged, it seemed, from some surreal or symbolist hothouse, some cultivated but airless terrain. Her latest work refers more to the natural world but as sensation, as energy and flow, formalized through color, brush strokes, scale. Some of these paintings, an expansive 8'x 9', are also the largest that Murray has ever made, as if she turned on the heat, upped the sense of urgency and drama. The surface is all-over, it would resemble a mosaic except that it is plumed, softened, the space layered, screened, visible through the flicker of feathered strokes that float across, up and down, slowly, quickly. The paint is textured, alternating between the thick and the thin, the opaque and the translucent. The paintings, with their staccato push and pull, their quick brushstrokes, their pulsating luminosity, hum with vibrant life. The colors are blinding whites, yellows, feverish oranges, pinks, corals, reds, tamped down by some grays, blacks. Murray spends several months in the Florida Keys every year and the stillness, movement, silence, sounds, the look of the land, and above all, the light and the colors of the region have found there way into her paintings, in one way or another: the searing radiance, the breathlessness of the air, the bleached and blasted tree trunks gilded by sun, the twisted mangroves and spreading vines. The drift in her paintings recall sky, the flight of cormorants and ibises, the lapping of water over rough, riddled marl and wavering tangles of seaweed, the bright rush of summer air. These are landscapes without landscapes, plumbing the referential, not the representational, in the abstract. At the right edge of each painting is a bar that extends from top to bottom; it has appeared in all of her paintings, emphasizing their origins in paint, their identity as uncompromised, uncompromising abstraction, the line of separation between art and nature; Murray remains an ardent, if non-doctrinaire, modernist. While their titles, Drift To The Edge, East Rushes West, Waiting For The Cool, The Idea Of The South, Shadows In Our Sun, Dark Before Light — many suggested by the poems of Wallace Stevens — acknowledge their sources in the poetics of place, in nature, in tropical climes, these sources are simply a point of departure for an extended soliloquy on how sensation, sensibility, digressions can still be conveyed through paint, on how, through embracing the factual world, the abstract artist can construct a supreme and sustaining fiction.

Lilly Wei
from exhibition catalogue, 2001


Lilly Wei is an art critic and curator who has written articles and reviews for numerous publications and curates shows both nationally and internationally.