There is a sense in some of Noel Murphy’s recent paintings that we are seeing these works at a certain selected moment in their evolution. Another day in the studio might lead to a canvas being changed beyond recognition or even painted over entirely. They have no planned end point and the moment at which the artist stops is a matter of instinct and experience.
The world of Murphy’s painting is vulnerable to the act of mark-making, or to the intrusion of a new thought or memory to overlap or cover over an already existing element within a painting. At times the image seems to disappear as we look at it, eroded by deliberately obtrusive marks and short brushstrokes that dig at the surface and undermine the sense of illusion. A variety of images and sources can seem to occur within the same painting, in some cases suggesting the tension between public and private worlds, history and recollection, or the diverse influences that jostle for space within the painter’s interior world.
Artistic influences are central to many of these works, a lengthy historical trail from Ribera and Velazquez, through Walter Sickert to Ben Nicholson. Nicholson is particularly relevant here in terms of the manner in which his Cubist-influenced works of the 1930s provide only the most reluctant and minimal clues to the idea or motif from which they are drawn, eliminating and abstracting everything else. Only the essentials of text or image remain as indicators, much as the numbers Murphy occasionally uses in these paintings seem to indicate the artist mapping his own life in his paintings.
Murphy’s insistent appropriation of imagery from other artists or from photographic sources runs in parallel to the manner in which he excavates from his own personal life and history. It is impossible for an artist as deeply involved with the art of the past as Noel Murphy not to connect and equate an experience of art with an experience of life. His engagement with the world occurs through art, both that he looks at and that which he has previously made himself, as much as it occurs through the experience of his own life, and these multi-layered paintings reflect this.
Figures from Murphy’s own family life overlap with figures from paintings or imagined figures or groups in places whose physical reality seems always to be slipping, to suggest that there is no single, simple experience of a moment, no definitive interpretation or memory of a particular event or moment and that this elusiveness is what makes painting a uniquely complex response to the individual experience within the world and ultimately an activity through which these elements can all be brought together.