John Murphy

The Blue Veil


Not on display

John Murphy born 1945
Acrylic paint on canvas
Support: 914 × 1019 mm
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1982

Catalogue entry

T03341 THE BLUE VEIL 1970

Inscribed on reverse ‘MURPHY I.VI 70/2, 3, 4, 5, 7’ and ‘MURPHY 196 (9?)-70 VILLEFRANCHE 36 × 48’, partially obscured by paint on overlap Acrylic on cotton canvas, 36 × 40 1/2 (91.5 × 102.2)
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1982
Prov: Purchased by the CAS from the artist 1972
Exh: London Now in Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, March–April 1971 (no catalogue, listed as ‘Villefranche’ on folded sheet); Seventh Exhibition, Serpentine Gallery, September–October 1971 (no catalogue, listed as no.3 ‘Ville France’ on folded sheet); John Murphy, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, January–February 1972 (no catalogue); CAS Acquisitions, Gulbenkian Hall, Royal College of Art, July 1975 (no catalogue, listed as ‘’ on handlist)

One of a series of monochrome paintings made between 1968–71.

In an unpublished article surveying the artist's work (‘On Contemplating the Night Sky - The Nocturnal Inscription Represents ...’ 1983) the artist and critic Jon Thompson has discussed these early ‘Veil’ paintings in relation to Murphy's enduring theme which Thompson describes as ‘that particular vacancy out of which words and images flow eventually to congeal as the tangible atmosphere which separates desire from its object; all (the works) focus on the timeless Lacuna which is the human dream and its necessary but fleeting suspension of common-place reality.

'In the “Veil” paintings these themes were couched in almost Proustian terms. A simultaneity of “concealment and revelation in the act of contemplation”, recalling the young Marcel's “little yellow rectangle of carefully painted wall” which he valued above all things because of its power to evoke a reality beyond itself. The “Veils” were similarly evocational in their thrust. They carried an implicit command to “look beyond” their surface appearance and to “draw forth from the shadow of their visible, material characteristics,” a poetic sense “at a depth at which appearances matter little” (Marcel Proust). Like Proust's little painted square, they were intended to function as “fragments withdrawn from time” ... and as a consequence, to become transposed into “that pure matter which is entirely distinct from the matter of common things” (Proust). Their minimal appearance was therefore misleading, for they sought to address a metaphysical rather than a physical reality and to locate themselves at the place in which words and images cohere as poetry. This is, in essence, the Proustian Mirror, which argues a special “transformation at the surface” between the reflection and that which is the object of reflection. But while Proust's mirror remains, to a degree clouded by an impression of the real world, the “veil” in Murphy's “Monochromes” is the surface, is the reflection, is its object. There are shades here of Carlo Carrà's space beyond the receding plane’ ... a space which he called ‘the inhabited depth’ but perhaps more importantly of the Duchampian mirror, the beyond which does not merely reflect the self but beyond the self ...’

In conversation with the compiler (19 February 1982) Murphy said that he gave the collective title ‘Veil’ to six monochrome paintings, four of which have survived. These are: ‘Passing Time’ 1969 (Arts Council Collection and previously titled ‘12.8.69’) which is built up in layers of pink, orange and brown acrylic paint: T03341, where coats of orange, red, yellow, light blue and mid blue paint were applied in the order given; in addition the artist retains a pink monochrome painting (untitled) which is a companion in size to T03341 and a blue painting, also untitled, measuring approximately 72 × 84 inches. Two further monochromes (c.1968–70) were destroyed in a flood at the artist's home in 1976.

Murphy's monochrome paintings, begun in the early summer of 1968, while he was still a post-graduate student at Chelsea School of Art, evolved out of an earlier series of hard-edged minimal works influenced in part by the work of Barnett Newman.

The new paintings further emphasised the painting as ‘object’ - the sides of the canvas being particularly important in that they revealed how the paint had been built up, whereas the surface concealed this.

The inscription on the reverse of T03341 indicates that the painting was worked on on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th June (VI), 1970.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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