Monday, April 21, 2008

Elizabeth Murray

From: Jane Gladson

I remember several years ago writing another non-question in this space and receiving a gracious response. Thus, I hazard sending along an Editorial in last week's New York Times which reminded me of your writing.

(I apologize for the oddity that the Editorial is really an Obituary, but not many people get an obit on the Editorial page, so this must have been a very special woman, although I had never seen her work or heard of her until I read this editorial. It is not this woman's death but what he says about her work that is relevant here.)

I've been reading your recent bloggery, which prompted me to look up the editorial to send. The idea of separation of the works from the person, the idea of specificity (after seeing Elizabeth Murray's work), the idea of the enduring nature of the images and insights you write, the idea "that this narrative is my lived experience," the idea of reading (or viewing) as aspirational.

I am not saying that your work and Elizabeth Murray's remind me of one another at all, just that the editorial prompts me to think of your writing. I can remember phrases that thrilled me and stay with me.......the earliest from the first published version of 'Yaguara': a description of physical awareness of another that "made the hairs on her arm stand on end". Probably not an exact quote, but there are many other insights and phrases that stay with me and pop into my head at appropriate moments. Or feelings that stay with me, like Spanner's pain at the loss of Lore and Aud's eventual learning of that lesson. These are gifts you have given me, and I thank you.

I'm pasting in the Editorial and hope it reminds you of you, as well.

August 14, 2007

Elizabeth Murray

There are so many separations in every artist’s life — the projects that live only in the mind, the ones that go no further than a few sketches and, of course, the divorce that takes place when a work is really and truly finished and begins to live on its own. For those of us who celebrated the life and work of Elizabeth Murray, who died of cancer on Sunday at age 66, we mourn our separation from both.

Her paintings will be with us for years and years to come, teasing us, resisting us, giving life to something in her that could only find expression in an almost erotic sense of color and shape. People will come upon her work and wonder about the woman who made it, and she will take the place that every artist eventually takes — overshadowed by the constructs of her imagination.

But we — many of us New Yorkers — have been lucky to have known the woman herself. I have never met anyone in whom frankness and delicacy combined in the way they did in Elizabeth. Her eyes were very bold, and her face seemed constructed to make sure you couldn’t miss that boldness. There was a wildness blowing through her, and to talk to her was to feel that she was consciously effacing, for your benefit, something that would unhinge you if she let it out, which she did in her work. That was before cancer.

And if you happened to see her in the past year, frail and bald and as direct in the eye as ever, you knew that there was no effacing the knowledge of death, or the fresh understanding of life that that knowledge gives.

Elizabeth Murray’s death is enough to teach you how separate and undisclosing an artist’s work always is. And it reminds you how imperfect the very idea of artistic expression is. We know the work rises from within her, but it doesn’t describe her or capture her. Perhaps it’s best to say simply that it expresses what she thought it was possible to express with the tools she chose. It was central to her idea of herself, and yet the reference it makes to the living woman will now become more and more oblique. The work will live on in the durable world. But the memory of the artist lives on only in us, who are made of the same impermanent stuff that she was. VERLYN KLINKENBORG

I'm not familiar with Elizabeth Murray's work. But that is an amazing obituary. I'm flattered by the fact that it reminds you of me. The possibility appeals to my vanity, particularly those parts about 'wildness blowing through her' and 'she was consciously effacing, for your benefit, something that would unhinge you if she let it out, which she did in her work'. That notion of banked power would probably appeal to any artist. It's certainly attractive to me.

Vanity, or perhaps ego, is a fulcrum point in an artist's life. I don't think we can create without it. I feed my ego deliberately. But I feed it carefully. After all, the point of life is life, not art. I think it's entirely possible to let the ravening artist ego consume the human being and unbalance life. Once life gets unbalanced, the spring from which art flows dries up. And, huh, that's way too many metaphors. Clearly I have to go away and think about this. Thank you.

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