Work of Art: Pigeon
Elizabeth Murray
American
1940-2007
Pigeon
1991
Oil on canvas on laminated wood construction
95 3/4 x 62 5/8 x 13 5/16 in. (243.2 x 159.1 x 33.8 cm)
Purchased with funds from gifts by Mr. and Mrs. Samuel J. Levin and William R. Valentiner, by exchange
© 2012 The Murray-Holman Family Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Elizabeth Murray improvises as she paints. She has said painting is like telling a story without knowing the ending. For Murray, the story begins with a shape, freely sketched or molded in clay, then constructed of laminated wood and canvas. The shape suggests ideas and images that in turn prompt other images.

In the case of Pigeon, the initial inspiration was surrealist painter Salvador Dalí's famous limp clocks-note the clock hands snaking over the surface. The artist also read into the shape a woman's figure, whose frighteningly large footprints tread the upturned flap. As the painting progressed, the woman vanished, leaving only her long-sleeved blue dress. Raw and awkward in form, Pigeon remains deliberately ambiguous in meaning. Its protean shape shifts between vestiges of the female figure and an amoeboid life form. The work's contortions (and the torn dress at the waist) thus suggest the violence inherent in the creative act. Single cell and/or human body, Pigeon is equally humorous and horrific. The title - an afterthought - honors the birds that shared the artist's barn studio.

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