Third-generation feminist artist Margaret Murphy paints images of kitschy mass produced 99-cent store figurines that challenge the shifting contexts of female stereotypes of fundamentally “good” or “bad.” Placed within ovals inspired by Victorian parlour paintings, the isolated figures are at once nostalgic, amusing and shocking. In Victorian novels and attitudes, women were either traditional and submissive or impetuous and spunky. With their backs to the viewer, they tease and seduce, creating a reflective mirror for the viewer.
Although continuing to confront new issues, western society has advanced from the time when courtesans were the only women who had power and education. Just as women’s roles have changed, the same figurine can take on various identities when juxtaposed against wallpaper motifs of distinctively different time periods. The fact that the original source for the paintings are sculptures of already objectified images of women further articulates the pervasive tendency to describe women and their experiences as binary and simplistic.
Breaking the flat textile design or solid backgrounds of domestic life, Murphy paints fluid shadows to emphasize the three-dimensionality of the figure, forming a parallel visual tension to the subject. Her use of opaque acrylic with layering of translucent watercolor on paper addresses the strength and fragility of female identity in a continuously changing culture.