Peggy Murphy at Shift through March 30, 2019

Manfred’s Dream

Stephanie Hargrave

There is a sense that things are balanced when you look at the recent paintings of artist Peggy Murphy. And there is chaos. It’s a bit like looking at a wild garden that has been harnessed in places. However, as any gardener knows, the wildness just keeps growing beyond the parameters that were set, whether a border, fence, trellis or hedge. That creates a tension or pull as the vines entangle the structure meant to harness. It is this same type of tension that makes her paintings so intriguing – there is a certain elegant entanglement.

Visual artists get to cast about for order while also allowing for a certain amount of chaos, and in the process, they make a big mess, work to make sense of said mess, and work further to give it the shape it needs to be both wild and somewhat structured. Murphy investigates the systems and structures we build to restrain and support disorder, unpredictability, and chaos by painting circles, lines, horticultural elements, fragmented geometric forms, all while referencing the garden as a transgressive landscape. This is a lot harder than that sounds though! It takes long hours of mark making, a variety of gestures and shaping, and the whole time it feels like a series of questions are slowly being answered, some formal, some random, and some simply about how to balance space and weight. She uses color not so much to describe a thing, but to differentiate it from something else. She works the entire surface equally, but each piece goes through many stages as she studies what is angular versus organic and asymmetrical, what is contained versus free, and what is wild versus controlled.

Murphy is interested in the spaces people inhabit, and how the air is displaced as they walk through it. She sees how landscapes change, and how quickly they can change back, and how that relates to humans’ attempts to organize their physical spaces and lives. As she mentions in her statement, how much structure do we need to feel a sense of balance and equilibrium? She invites the viewer to question their perceptions – to see the antagonism between objects. And of course, to see how chaos and order become entangled.