Meg Lionel Murphy “Traumatica Dramatica”
A Solo Exhibition Presented by The Untitled Space
EXHIBITION ON VIEW
June 5th – July 2nd, 2021
Thursday, June 10, 2021 // 6pm-9pm
THE UNTITLED SPACE
45 Lispenard Street, NYC 10013
The Untitled Space is presenting the debut New York solo exhibition of artist Meg Lionel Murphy “Traumatica Dramatica” on view from June 5 through July 2, 2021, with an artist reception on June 10th from 6-9pm at the gallery located in Tribeca, NY. Curated by Indira Cesarine, “Traumatica Dramatica” debuts the latest series of Murphy’s vibrant and emotionally charged paintings. Lionel Murphy’s paintings are directly influenced by her own personal experiences, as she copes with debilitating PTSD from severe domestic violence. She works out of a little blue shack in a junkyard on her family’s property in Wisconsin, where she paints detailed, vivid works on paper and panel depicting heartbroken giants that magically grow larger, stronger, and scarier than the world around them. Her solo exhibition “Traumatica Dramatica” addresses violence against women from her own perspective as well as the historical precedent of emotional and physical violence against women throughout the canon of art history. “The idea of violence haunts me, and I try to etch that subject into even the pinkest of paint,“ she has stated of her visceral portraits. Lionel Murphy depicts through her vivid brush strokes and intricate imagery a reverie through which the viewer can get lost with each poetic detail. Her paintings of the female form as giantess unconquerable figures address their experiences of pain, trauma, and healing as well as their interactions with the environments they consume as they assert their power. Her work depicts a reverence for fragility and humanity while examining questions about whiteness, gender, sexuality, class, sacrifice, pain, sickness, loneliness, and most of all—violence and its haunting memories.
Meg Lionel Murphy received degrees in Art, Art History, and English Literature from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, where she additionally studied classical oil painting in Florence, Italy. After college, Lionel Murphy worked as a children’s illustrator and co-founded a literary and art magazine, Paper Darts. She also helped to run the arts nonprofit, Pollen Midwest, that uses storytelling and art to explore social justice movements. After leaving her career in publishing to focus on painting, Lionel Murphy eventually moved to rural Wisconsin to focus on her art without distraction. Her artwork has been presented in exhibitions throughout the US, including 2020 solo shows “Interior Violence” at CoExhibitions Gallery (Minneapolis), and “Meg Lionel Murphy” online solo show presented The Untitled Space, as well as a number of group shows including at Public Functionary (Minneapolis), Jolby And Friends (Portland), Waiting Room Gallery (Minneapolis), and the Other Art Fair (Los Angeles). Lionel Murphy has been featured in a variety of publications including Bitch Magazine, Brown Paper Bag, MPLS Art, Mulieris Magazine, Neut Magazine, 360 Magazine, and The Untitled Magazine.
Curator Indira Cesarine caught up with Meg to chat about her artwork and inspirations prior to the opening of her forthcoming solo show. Read below for the full interview.
Tell us about the inspiration for the exhibition title “Traumatica Dramatica”?
Traumatica Dramatica is a spell. The title is both winking and deadly serious. The show conjures a world of fantasy, far, far away, where violence magically transforms femme bodies into a monstrous size, so that their pain must be seen, felt, and reckoned with.
Your work is heavily influenced by your personal experiences, specifically with domestic violence. You can see in some of the paintings these experiences appear to be directly referenced, can you share how you navigate your past and use art to heal? Is it hard to address some of your past while painting?
A man that hits you feels entitled to your body. He tries to take it from you.
Since my body was taken from me—even years after experiencing intimate partner violence—my feeling of bodily autonomy has never returned. By painting bodies, I feel more inside of my own. I am able to take up more space inside of myself.
Over the last year I’ve been working with a trauma therapist on exposure therapy, where I recall a violent memory over and over again, in order to deflate some its power. I am not sure I would recommend this line of care—it is one of the hardest things I have ever done. But I would never have painted a specific act of violence like this earlier in my career. The violence was suggested and happend off frame. But I have wanted to make work like this. I think it is important to make imagery that goes to the darkest of places if I am also going to make magical portraits of ecstatic escape.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is estimated to affect less than 10% of the general population. It affects twice as many women as men. In my paintings, PTSD turns humans into giants. Imagine if our bodies outwardly betrayed our record of emotional and physical torture. Would we treat each other differently? Would we be able to find each other and define each other differently?
Your color palette is always very vibrant, can you share what colors inspire you and why?
I feel like color is the weather of a painting. Because my art is so chaotic with clouds and objects swirling about, it is fun to see what strange color combinations I can make to push the tone of the work and layer in a vibe that is a bit garish, but alluring—both ominous and soothing at once. I am drawn to pink and red—the colors of romance and the meat and blood beneath our skin. See? Alluring and ominous.
Your paintings are full of so many intricate details, can you share how you put it all together? Is there a process you work with to develop your narratives? Or is it more stream of conscious?
Each painting tells a story within the larger myth I am making for the giants. Objects in the painting come from real life, modeled after doll miniatures, which are often displayed along with the artwork as found object still lifes. I collect characters like I collect doll furniture and slowly weave the paintings together over time, sometimes letting them build for years.
What inspires the women we see in your paintings?
I am inspired by the ways women and femmes dress themselves and what a modern sense of dress can signal about feeling safe in one’s skin. I hope the choices made for each figure brings her to life. I want their clothing, tattoos, makeup, and hair color to be seen as armor as well, especially when in the context of a battle scene, where the figures’ femininity is matched by the tiny soldiers in ornate and outrageous uniforms.
It is important to me, that as the giants wander, they find more femme bodies stretched long by pain. They travel together in packs. They search for a land where they can truly live with bodily autonomy and communal care and understanding. I love the way subtle postures and touch can signal connection, intimacy, and safety. I want this quote by Judith Lewis Herman to live inside each portrait: “Trauma isolates; the group re-creates a sense of belonging. Trauma shames and stigmatizes; the group bears witness and affirms. Trauma degrades the victim; the group exalts her. Trauma dehumanizes the victim; the group restores her humanity,” from the book, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror.
What do you want others to take away from your paintings?
I want my paintings to be good luck charms. To be talismans of growth. I want the figures within the paintings to watch over the rooms they live in. I want them to come alive for the viewer. I want viewers to escape for a moment, into this fantasy world I’ve created and pretend it is real. I want them to leave the show and imagine what it would be like for giants to drape over the structures and landscapes they find in their everyday lives. More than anything, I want my audience to feel seen if they have experienced domestic violence, or other forms of trauma.
Are you excited for your 1st New York solo show? Tell us how you are feeling?
Though I’ve lived and travelled in major cities, I currently live in a midwestern rural space. I grew up in a very humble, conservative community—about as far from New York as one can possibly imagine. So I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to show in New York.
All these paintings have been made during lockdown, in my small hometown on Lake Michigan. Therefore the work has the quality of being from the middle of nowhere and the middle of everywhere. It will be strange to be in a city with so many bodies for the first time in a very long time. I hope the work is taken seriously. I hope it finds a new audience. I hope I haven’t failed the giants—they have become very real to me. They stand in for so many women and nonbinary femmes I’ve met over my life. I want to do right by them.
Interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
All images courtesy of The Artist and The Untitled Space
The Untitled Space @untitledspaceny