48 Jason Murphy



Born Detroit, 1976 / BA, Bennington College; MFA, Columbia University / Lives in Hamtramck

There is a chrysalis-like flux in the recent artworks of Jason Murphy. You feel it in the roughness of his constructions, as if we’ve interrupted a process, caught something between stages, or found artwork paused mid-construction. You find it in the vacillation of materials, a bit precarious and unstable, with histories and symbolism referencing building, but also breakdown, negligence, and accident. This is artwork precise and unstable, beautiful but a bit unsettling.

Murphy’s practice is difficult to position. You might call him a sculptor, for his work is materially based, but the classification does not quite fit. He began as a painter and his practice is still engaged with Formalist painting; there are strong elements of color, line, shape, and texture. But his artworks are not paintings; they are definitely things, they have a presence and must be negotiated with.

His move towards sculpture may be a reaction to the fixity of painting, a medium that seems already resolved, the stretcher providing a frame, definition, and a destination: the wall, the domestic. Or perhaps it is painting’s commodity status, its salability and confident presence in the art market, the standing and attitude of contemporary painting seeming so at odds with the daily lives and struggles of people in Detroit, where Murphy lives. Yet ultimately these concerns are probably secondary to his interest in the elegance of common materials. Born and bred in Detroit, Jason was/is surrounded by construction materials, the leftovers from departed factories and houses, and new construction projects ongoing. There is raw beauty to these objects of labor, blue-collar things that become amplified in his artworks. Ultimately it is the history and sociopolitical resonance of materials that dominates, rather than what happens on the surface.

These interests are apparent in the last five years of his practice. You find them in his experiments painting on non art surfaces, such as, A Spanish Father and an Italian Mother # 2 (2012) where he has painted a series of colored horizontal stripes on a moving blanket, or in Boomer (2011), where he negotiated with a Detroit construction company to magnify the patterned exterior of a warehouse by adding enamel colors. Yet in his 2015 show at Young World, these concerns are most evident. Here, his materials are carefully selected, their interactions planned, and his operations carried out with rehearsed precision. These deliberately blunt actions evoke factory systems, amplifying objectness. The experience is almost like visiting a painter deconstructing his artworks, where all elements take on a physicality, transforming from planes into objects. The canvas a clump of cloth, the stretcher an apparatus, and the fasteners, ropes and clamps in place of staples, devices no longer hidden.

In Superman (2015) and For Tony Gwynn (2015), large industrial rubber sheets have been dipped in neon paint, hung from their corners by metal clips attached to steel armatures anchored into concrete blocks. The wrinkled rubber is left to drip-dry, while on the floor the paint’s remains show evidence of the process. In Manatee (2015) A piece of canvas is similarly treated, stained with blue paint and tied to a length of steel, bent back like a catapult, held taut by a concrete anchor.

As the constituent elements emerge, so too does the importance of each object’s socioeconomic properties. We are drawn to consider the material’s history and significance, the role it plays, and how it is viewed by society. In Huachipato (2015), Murphy presents three, clear plastic, 5-gallon, food storage tubs containing bright pools of saccharine color, a cool icy blue, a yellowy orange, and shimmering wine red. On closer inspection they are revealed to be Kool-Aid–Cherry, Pineapple, and Twist Berry Blue–the beverage a cultural signifier of childhood, home, and lower socioeconomic class. Murphy has left the bins open, letting Kool-Aid mingle with airborne debris, dust and insects settling, mold slowly growing. Pleasurable childhood associations turn towards dereliction. Field Study (2015), a carefully arranged taxonomy comprising hundreds of broken stones, reclaimed concrete, brick and asphalt, evokes similar associations. Here, he has given each object a color name listed in the galley handout, creating a language from the abandoned and ignored.

Even in these sometimes eviscerating reactions to formalism, there remains remarkable care and compassion. Murphy has logged many hours selecting materials, both the discarded and the common. He has cleaned, prepared, and arranged them with objects that will complement their qualities. And he has taken things that were formerly overlooked and resurrected them into new relations and new representations.

Anthony Marcellini, March 2016

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