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Courtney Murphy

Courtney Murphy’s dramatic and elegant paintings of women are rendered with exceptional technical skill. She smoothly applies her oil paint upon canvases that depict intimate snapshots of women adorned in billowing fabrics. The figures occupy the space with a kinetic energy, and the rich colors and warm, soft lighting imbue her images dramatically. The rhythmic movement within Murphy’s paintings culminates in her depiction of the figures’ textiles, which she compares to “flowing water” for the way that they “shine and move in waves over the figure.”

The unique viewpoints and the cropping used to frame Murphy’s scenes shroud the female subjects in mystery and relegate the interpretation of the scene to the viewer. Her titles, such as Suddenly and Encore, add to the mystery. Murphy explains, “My pieces all have their own story, but they have no one ending,” and in this way her art hints at a possible narrative without becoming didactic. Her works encourage a wide array of responses. While some may view her paintings as intimately elegant portraits, one art critique found a piece’s subtle sensuality to be “fetishized” and “slightly creepy.” Murphy is thrilled by the variety of interpretations of her works because they reveal that viewers are of the subtleties of her arrangement, where even the stretching motion of an ankle, or the curve of a knee evoke a strong emotional response. Murphy explains, “It is this recognition, either positive or negative, of femininity and strength that I search for [in my art].”

Murphy’s dramatic use of lighting draws upon the neoclassical style of Jean-August Dominique Ingres, while the rippling fabrics that adorn the women recall the Rococo paintings of Jean Marc Nattier. Despite these stylistic similarities, there is also a dichotomy between her style and the earlier Rococo and Neoclassical genres to which she is drawn. Murphy’s women break from the passive women of Ingres’ and Nattier’s paintings, who are subordinated to objects intended for the pleasure of a male viewer. Instead, Murphy imbues her women with agency. Her figures are not passive or objectified, but dynamic. They embrace their feminine sensuality while remaining in control of the space they inhabit. Her works reattribute power to the female and call for a feminist reflection upon the role of the female figure within art. Although influenced by past styles, Murphy’s paintings evoke a timeless quality. Murphy maintains this unique attribute through her use of cropping, clothing, and technique, which elicits both a contemporary and nostalgic feel that renders the paintings temporally ambiguous.

Murphy’s advanced formal technique, style, and meticulous attention to detail are indicative of her impressive academic background. Murphy began her formal art education at the California Art Institute where she had the opportunity to learn from the renowned realist painter Jeremy Lipking, an artist she credits with inspiring her to paint timeless classical figures within the contemporary art genre. At UC Davis, Murphy became exposed to a wide range mediums including painting, sculpture, and costume design, and although initially searching for continuity in her vast array of practices, Murphy came to the realization that, through the influence of her teacher, Dave Hollowell, all her mediums are unified by the central artistic principal of creation. While studying at the prestigious New York Academy of Art, Murphy was thrown into the saturated environment of the city for the first time. New York pushed her boundaries and exposed her to art that both inspired and motivated her practice. The school not only advanced her technical skills and broadened her understanding of oil painting, but also instilled her with the freedom of understanding that it is ok to break the rules.

In 2004, Murphy attended the Pont-Aven School of Contemporary Art in Pont-Aven, France, the small town where Paul Gauguin famously painted, drawn to the Britannic region’s rustic purity. Murphy’s experience in the town rejuvenated her practice. Working en plein air upon the cliffs, Murphy liberated herself from her constricted focus on the concept, process, and result of her works, and retaught herself to simply paint. Her 2009 artist residency in Eden Rock, St. Barths similarly had an important impact on her art. The change of scenery and the abundance of time she was able to dedicate solely to painting not only positively impacted her works, but also her artistic outlook.

In 2013 and 2014, Murphy’s works were included in Sotheby’s group exhibition “Take A Nude Home.” In 2014, Murphy’s solo exhibition “Interludes,” was the culmination of six years of artistic work. There her work converged to create a holistic narrative surrounding themes of femininity.

Ever motivated, Murphy pushes the boundaries of her painting style seeking new and innovative color choices, compositional viewpoints and scale. She is an accomplished artist whose alluring paintings and impressive artistic background continues to captivate her peers.

Kelly Bertrando
July, 2015