John Murphy
United Kingdom, 1945
John Murphy (St Albans, England, 1945) made a name for himself in the mid-sixties while still at the Chelsea School of Arts through the yearly group exhibitions Young Contemporaries. He was only 26 when he presented his first solo exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London—where he would again show in 1984—and in the early seventies, he also had two exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford. Although his work has largely been multiform, it does adhere to certain distinct lines of investigation. On the one hand, he has shown a strong predilection for monochromatic painting since the very beginning. In his case, this is not merely a formal exercise, but tied to metaphorical content. On the other hand, he has extensively used found objects and images, often related to art history or poetry, which he recontextualises within the scope of his own work. His artistic universe is deeply influenced by words: for John Murphy, the interaction between vision and language has conceptual roots. In terms of his own work, with its openness to interpretation, this ends up assigning the spectator a central role. The artist tends to revisit and reuse his own, earlier work as well as specific motifs: the dogs, for example, that predominated in several exhibitions during the late eighties and early nineties. Included in this series is a painting owned by the Tate Gallery, the title of which allows us to identify the literary sourcethat inspired the use of this figure: Investigations of a Dog by Franz Kafka. Murphy finds his alter ego in the book’s “contemplative animal”. He finished the piece The Dogs… the same year the Whitechapel Gallery organised an important exhibition of his work. The painting also showed at the only exhibition he has ever had in Spain, at the Galería Marga Paz in Madrid (1988). Something the painting has in common with others of the same series is the wide, almost monochromatic background that in the context of Spanish art brings to mind the dog in Goya’s Black Paintings.
Elena Vozmediano