I mostly miss the crows. The urban landscape that surrounds me now has an abundance of wildlife–squirrels, raccoons, skunks, and pigeons. But lacking are the shrewd, blackbirds that are so prevalent in the lore of both my whole land on the Prairies and the East Coast. I’ve moved on. So has Ivan Murphy. Not to imply that Murphy painted only crows–he didn’t. His works also included exotic flora in the severe foreground of a coastal landscape like in “Elsewhere #1”; and the trees or what remains of them in “Distant Respite”. But it is the crows that I remember best. Perhaps, it is akin to returning to one's place of growing up, after several years of being away, only to find that things have changed. Murphy's paintings of landscape and place have indeed changed, and yet they are no less evocative of the locations called home.
There is clarity in these recent paintings. The real and imagined landscapes recall both in title and content those familiar locations. The sites for “Commons” and “Green Bay” our easily located for those familiar with Halifax and its environs. The paintings “Bay”, “Dunes”, and “Umbrellas” locate themselves in destinations to which we have or hope to journey.
For Murphy, though not a native to the Maritimes, these locations have revealed it themselves as not only beautiful but also tragic (1), even if they are locations Born only of the painter’s imagination. “Mon retour” is unique in this discussion. The place to which the artist, or we, might return is obscured. Is this, as with my return to the place that I grew up, Murphy's discovery that things have irrevocably changed? Or is it within the obscurity that we find clarity-a contradiction that speaks of the transformative capacity of art.
Wassily Kandinsky, not wanting to be seen as a maker of trivial and decorative paintings, sought to describe a spiritual state and ultimately to make landscape/subject irrelevant. Thus for Ivan Murphy, the idea of seeking respite/reprieve is central to the painting “Memory of Respite”, the title most obviously suggests. And, it could even be at the core of these recent explorations. Gone are the flora and fauna and in their stead are painterly explorations that belie a notion which suggests that these paintings are merely beautiful. These works are more than this; they are representations of what it means to seek and dream.
(1) Only recently have I come to realize that even some of this seemingly “pristine” landscape is not “natural”, being a result of heavy logging and subsequent new growth by a single species of trees. (Murphy, artist statement 2005)