GEOMETRIC PAINTINGS SHOWN
Sunday, March 21, 1982, Arts Section p.1, 4.
by Ron Lowe
Dallas—When Judith Murray decided to limit her palette to white, red, black and ochre, she didn’t realize that these were the very colors used by cave artists of the Stone Age. That discovery only reinforced her belief that her palette is a universal one, capable of endless variation.
Now she offers us a surprisingly wide ranging body of work in the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts fifth Concentrations exhibition. Murray’s show, now on view in the museum’s lower galleries, will continue through May 23.
Judith Murray, who maintains a studio in Manhattan, has laid clear boundaries for her explorations in oil on canvas. She works with a rectangular picture plane that supports compositions that play the geometric against the curvilinear in fragmented forms.
Red Wing,1980, oil on canvas, 52" x 57"
The artist employs a heightened tension by bringing forms within minute distances of each other. A curving bow sweeping out from a precise and squared line stops just short of a counterbalancing tapered form. The interplay of abstract forms reiterate the tension by working off the edge of the picture plane, never violating the border of the canvas.
This is an abstraction that remembers the figurative. Much like early modernism, Murray’s forms suggest life and refer to the organic and the figurative as well as the man-made invention of the rectangular. The traditional figure ground relationship is at work as this artist’s forms come off of a rich black surface.
As if Murray hadn’t given herself enough in the way of compositional problems, she adds a difficult element in the hard-edged ochre band that lines each canvas at the far right of the picture plane. Murray admits “it pulls the forms off center, and gives them a structure to rock against and grow towards.” The ochre band adds complexity, making a successful balance far from an easy effect.
If you’re looking for the slash-and-drip brushwork that characterizes so much of the new painting, you’ll be disappointed. Murray lays her paint down in smooth layers, as many as 10, to achieve a velvety surface. With only rare exceptions, you’ll be hard-pressed to find evidence of brushwork.
We might suspect that with titles like Arrow, Constellation, Ham and Eggs, and Glider, the selection was arbitrary; Murray insists that is not the case. “Each painting finds its own identity. After I finish a work I sit before it and find the word that fits. Nothing in my work is arbitrary.”
These paintings will affirm much of what you’ve come to believe about painting. They bear traits of Mondrian and artists of the Russian avant-garde. Despite the intensity of dramatic color, they are soothing paintings that invite participation without push or demand.
Sue Graze, the DMFA’s curator for contemporary art and of this exhibition, explains her choice: “Murray has worked in the hard-edged geometric tradition since 1977. She exemplifies the tradition. I’ve followed her work since 1979.”
Murray has exhibited extensively in such shows as the Whitney Biennial. Her work is currently included in the traveling exhibition Art in Our Time. Murray is represented by Los Angeles’ Janus gallery.
Crossbow by Judith Murray.