Colette Murphy

2012 The Icebergs
2010 The Hunt
2009 The Flood
2008 Shipwrecks
2007 Empty Vessels
2006 Urban Fantasy

Odds & Ends

Artist's Statement


Colette Murphy and the Art of Coalescence

An iceberg separated from its surroundings, no sky or land, only the suggestion of water, light and its reflection. As you approach the work, entitled “Summit,” dozens of people (apparitions really), are found perched upon the ledges: some standing, some sitting, some wearing turbans, some in military uniform. It’s an abnormal sight to be sure, perhaps not right away, but strange in a way that Freud would come to term the uncanny. It’s a decision of coupling that no conscious mind would readily conceive. And yet, as the painting washes over you, the male officers and their counterparts, comfortable in their icy lot, the work coalesces. The two incongruous foreground subjects create a new environment that once experienced, arrives completely in tune with itself and nature. “Human Abstract” uses this kind of foreground comingling to reveal a slow melting or wearing away of our past. The prestige and footprint of our human impact fades away as the iceberg melts. A castle that resembles The Chambord in France is merely a pencil line on the iceberg, an image as a reflection upon a world in transition. As the artist herself states, “the particles of our history present themselves in many forms and fragments, evidence of our ancestors is ever-present in the ruins and the footprints that they have left behind and yet in leaving they have propelled these codes to the future us.” The coalescence of Colette’s subjects, the formal choices that pit and propel these (dis)unions appeal directly to the subconscious, while still being available as representation. It is the how the work “arts,” and it is transfixing.

Colette Murphy was born in New Ross, Ireland in 1975 and emigrated to the U.S. at an early age. Her interest in the natural invariably relates to an implicit spiritual, and indeed her work is singularly focused while often haunting, even haunted by its own subject and the formal choices she observes. I think it is also haunted by a strong memory of youth, the culturally specific fantasies that one always carries as an immigrant to a new land. This is especially true in her series of Huntsmen on horseback, recalling old English fox hunts, though there is little that resonates triumphantly within her depictions. The paintings are literally dark, the riders often veiled or faceless, and invariably alone. When this is another figure such as in “Crossing the Gowanus,” painted in 2008-2010, two soldiers are dressed in the same uniform yet find themselves on either side of the middle void, a literal hole in the center of the work. It echoes our current American political division, where there are often only two choices, and you feel the artist is weary of both. Only a shared, knowing eye contact between the two riders suggest complicity between two paths that will never cross.

You can also feel the fog and moss of her homeland in her work, especially in the atmospheres that she creates. I know in my discussions with Colette that she often longs for some of her paintings to be literally “wet”, saturated with water as part of the viewing experience. Working on raw unpainted linen, her focus hones in on the foreground object (which is often the only object, especially as two subjects become layered into one). The texture of the canvas becomes the natural element that helps ground the piece, suggesting that the background of this work is not art, not the sterile differentiated space of a white background, but nature itself. The titles of her work are often taken from titles of William Blake’s poetry. Colette shares similar concerns with Blake not only in his appeals to nature and spirituality, but also regarding abuses of the ruling class, the emptiness of war and the rejection of organized religion. At its best, Colette’s work builds on how these tensions conflate ever toward ominous ends.

In this way her work is allegorical as well, arising from an inner dialogue of politics and fantasy. This is another way the work is interested in the meaning that arises from combinations, as her subjects layer to create new meaning, social criticism is layered upon a fantasy state. These concerns also echo fears of the global environment, which is under threat from the explosion of the human population in the most recent century. “My work bears the weight of an unbearable emotional response to the events around us. I paint to survive the impact.”

Bryan Wizemann