Elizabeth Murray

Untitled (Black Cup)


Not on display

Elizabeth Murray 1940–2007
Hand-coloured lithograph on paper
Image: 1504 × 921 mm
Purchased 1985

Catalogue entry

Elizabeth Murray born 1940

P77126 Untitled (Black Cup) 1984

Lithograph with handcolouring 1504 x 921 (59 1/4 x 36 1/4) on Arches 350 gm rolled paper, same size; printed by Maurice Sanchez, James Miller and John Volny at Derrière L'Etoile Studio, New York and published by Cooper and Alexander, New York in an edition of 10
Inscribed ‘Elizabeth Murray '84' b.r. and ‘2/10' towards b.l.
Purchased from Cooper and Alexander, New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1985
Lit: ‘Prints & Photographs Published', Print Collector's Newsletter, vol.15, July-Aug. 1984, p.106
Repr: American Modern and Contemporary Prints and Illustrated Books, Christie's, New York, 10-11 May 1988, p.210 (535)

P77126 depicts a large stylised black cup beside which, to the left, is a very small representation of a similar image in red. The main image is printed in black, red, blue and green, whereas the small cup is printed in red and handcoloured in blue and green. The artist used tusche and crayon to draw on the plates and stones. In answers dated 8 February 1988 to questions posed by the compiler the artist stated that she had wanted to make a dark print and decided at the final stage that she wanted to contrast handmade with printed marks, the printed mark being, to a certain extent, flatter than the handmade. She also stated that ‘I couldn't get what I got through printing'.

The image of the cup is consistent with Murray's work in all media and emerged out of her early interest, in the mid seventies, in biomorphism and, in particular, the work of Arp and Miró. The elongated tongue shape, representing splashing liquid, is found in many of her paintings after 1983. According to Paul Gardner ‘The cup is an extremely female symbol. It can be seen as an encasement for the female genitals. It is a male symbol too: the winner of an athletic event gets a cup' (‘Elizabeth Murray Shapes Up', Artnews, vol.83, Sept. 1984, pp.47-55). Gardner also quotes Murray as follows: ‘I see my own work as androgynous. Art is about the male and female components in all of us. Art is sexy, but it doesn't have sex. When you think of great paintings, you don't think this image is masculine, that one feminine. Some images are very rigorous, others are softer'.

In answer to the question whether the cup has symbolic connotations the artist replied that although she understands it as a feminine symbol it also has a ‘topological meaning [which] is just as important - the cup with its round but shallow hole at the top combined with the circular handle can transform - even mathematically into many different 3-D & flat shapes. It's that motion into another thing that makes me find certain images like the cup interesting to work with'.

Thus while the cup undeniably has symbolic connotations - particularly female in its softness and roundness and in its nature as a domestic object - and the splash shape is at once penis and uterus they are also explored for their formal properties. The cup's ‘motion into another thing' or its ambiguity is represented in the mixture of male and female elements.

The decision to include the smaller image of the cup was made at a late stage and while it might be seen as an image of dependency Murray has stated ‘that was not exactly [my] intention. I wanted a scale jump of image - one image looms - the other recedes.' This is achieved not only by the discrepancy in the relative scale of the two objects but by the way in which the vastness of the black cup is enhanced by its ability to fill almost the entire vertical dimension of the sheet and by the way in which it has been distorted, in a cubistic sense, to fit into the available space. The size of the sheet was determined by the size of the printing press.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, p.438


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