PRINT February 1978

Elizabeth Murray’s Dandyish Abstraction

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE, DISCUSSING “ONE OF the most fundamental tendencies of human reality—the tendency to fill,” asserts that “a good part of our life is passed in plugging up holes, in filling empty places, in realizing and symbolically establishing a plenitude.”1 Well, in Elizabeth Murray’s painting, the plenitude seems to have been there from the start, masked by, yet emanating from, the planes of the picture. The problem is to puncture this plenitude (to break the bubble, so to speak) by making holes in it—symbolic holes which may seem to imply, if not an emptiness, an alternative, less complete, presence than the plenitude itself. One way or another, usually by what have been called “small markings,”2 Murray interrupts the surface in a way that initially seems absurd, but finally makes pictorial and, as we will see, “emotional” sense.

Murray’s project of painting, then, seems to involve

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