National Museum of Women in the Arts
Elizabeth Murray
1940 - August 12 2007
Photograph of Elizabeth Murray, 1999, by Ellen Page Wilson, courtesy of PaceWildenstein, New York, NY, USA
Place of Birth:
Phonetic Spelling:
ee-LIHZ-ah-behth MUHR-ee
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Work Type/Media:
Drawings and prints, Painting, Sculpture
Artistic Role(s):
Draftsperson, Mixed Media Artist , Muralist, Painter, Sculptor, Sketcher
Abstraction, Other
Artist's Biography:
Born in Chicago in 1940, Elizabeth Murray developed an early interest in drawing. Her father, forced into early retirement due to illness, and her mother, unable to apply her artistic skills to a profitable job, moved the family around the Midwest in search of work. Despite financial difficulty, Murray’s father encouraged his children to pass their time at the movie theater where they enjoyed watching cartoons. Murray also found an escape in her sketchbooks, drawing to fill her time. In 1958, Murray left her family to attend the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. After graduating with her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1962, she moved to Oakland where she earned her Master’s from Mills College in 1964. Murray married sculptor Don Sunseri, whom she later divorced, and moved to New York in the fall of 1967.

Murray’s early paintings were executed in acrylic, which she built up in heavy impasto and to which she added scraps of fabric and parts of furniture. She experimented with pop culture imagery and non-objective shapes. In 1971, she abandoned acrylic for oil and began exhibiting her work more regularly. Her first important exhibition was at the Whitney Biennial Exhibition in 1972. She completely abandoned traditional canvas supports and, instead, stretched her canvases over plywood geometric and organic shapes. Her original approach to painting earned her national attention during the late 1970s.

In 1982, Murray married poet Bob Holman and while raising their two daughters, enjoyed increasing prolificacy during the 1980s. She began using representational imagery on progressively more unusually shaped surfaces which became more sculptural as she assembled multiple planes of inventive shapes in her paintings. These fractured canvases broke the rules of conventional painting, but continued to grow in popularity among museums and collectors. Critics have described Murray as a Neo-expressionist and Neo-abstractionist, citing her fragmented forms, brightly painted non-objective shapes, and her inclusion of more recognizable imagery as a completely original style of work. Although she considered herself primarily a painter, she has also created glass mosaic murals for the New York subway system and free-standing sculptures that resonate with her characteristically colorful unorthodoxy.

Other Occupation(s):
Place(s) of Residence:
New York
Place(s) of Activity:
New York
Where Trained/Schools:
Mills College, Oakland, CA, USA (1962-1964) School of The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA (1958-1962)
Related Visual Artists:
wife of Don Sunseri friend of Jennifer Bartlett friend of Jenny Snider friend of Joel Shapiro influenced by Willem de Kooning influenced by Frank Stella
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Lifetime Achievement Award, Women's Caucus for Art, New York, NY, USA (2007) Fellowship, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Chicago, IL, USA (1999) Larry Aldrich Prize in Contemporary Art, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT, USA (1993)
Earliest exhibition:
Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, USA (1972)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Steven Scott Collects: Donations and Promised Gifts to the Permanent Collection
Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art, 1987-1997
Presswork: The Art of Women Printmakers
Artist retrospective(s):
Elizabeth Murray, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA (2005)
Bright Dark Release
Pickle AM/Noon/PM