September 19, 2017

Block Prints by Murphy

        Today, as promised, I have some work by the husband of the previous artist featured.  John J.A. Murphy (USA, 1888-1967) was married to Cecil Buller, and both were active printmakers.  They shared a somewhat similar style in portraying the human body, stylized, with different areas modeled and shaded boldly.  They both made series with Biblical themes, Murphy illustrating the Stations of the Cross, among other things.  But as with Buller, Murphy’s bodies aren’t my favorites, and I’ve chosen pieces I like more.
        First, “The Morning Gossip,” which looks like a simple gathering of women chatting pleasantly, until you notice the figure on the outskirts in a black shawl, staring at the group of which she is not a part.  And the woman nearest her turns and looks over her shoulder.  Is it a warning to stay away?  Is it guilt?  Some of the other women have interesting expressions, as well, considering how simple their faces are.  I also like the variety of stripes on the women’s skirts, giving them interesting texture and an almost Cubist angularity.  This piece is pretty intense.
        The other pieces I have here today are from a series illustrating the Aberthaw Construction Company.  I don’t know the story behind them; I can only assume that Murphy was commissioned to celebrate/promote the company.  The second one suggests at first glance the Parthenon or some classical temple on an Olympus, perhaps reminding the viewer of the Aberthaw Construction Company’s noble work in building the grand cities of our golden future.  These have a very different sort of style from the first piece.  The people are small and quite simply silhouetted.  The buildings and construction projects are huge and magnificent, soaring to the skies.  And the cloudy skies are especially exuberant with their bold, curling, swooping lines.  These prints are listed
as wood engravings, and although their carving style does not look at all like engraving to me, they are quite small, only about 3 inches square.  I like how bold they are and how grand their views for such small images.
        (By the way, it turns out that Aberthaw Construction is still around, at 123 years old, and still constructing in the greater Boston area, including a few buildings I drive past on occasion.  It's fun to find a connection.)

[Pictures: The Morning Gossip, wood block print by John J.A. Murphy, first half of twentieth century (Image from Thomas Shahan);
Aberthaw Construction Company, wood engraving(?) by Murphy, 1919;
Aberthaw Construction Company, wood engraving(?) by Murphy, 1919 (Images from Art Institute of Chicago).]

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