Russell Murphy Solo Exhibition “Enterprises” at No Romance Galleries

By - Friday, July 3rd, 2015

No Romance Galleries recently hosted a private viewing of a collection of urban contemporary art by Russell Murphy, a New York-based graffiti artist with whom you are likely familiar. The artwork included in Enterprises contains imagery referencing mortality, consumerism, urban disassociation, dehumanization and crime in an overall theme of New York City’s demise. Viewed in their entirety, the works capture and comment on current controversies and the reactions to news-related media in a way that pop-art of the digital age has often failed to do. Enterprises highlights aspects of humanity that are evocative and disconcerting. 

The title of the show is ironic among the artworks that mock free enterprise and portray the end of civilization. Buildings aflame, as depicted in “Generic Apocalypse”, and deformed human subjects, as seen in “Soldier’s Duty” and “In One Ear Out the Other” are distinctly referential. “Generic Apocalypse” appears to be an allegory to commercial collapse, while “Soldier’s Duty” invokes recent and well-established concerns about the militarization of the police.

"Generic Apocalypse"
“Generic Apocalypse”
“Soldier’s Duty”
Left to right: "In One Ear Out The Other", "Death Looms"
“In One Ear Out The Other” and “Death Looms”

The pieces that directly reference mortality and demise demonstrate an easy association between specific images with concepts of “death” or “apocalypse.” Incorporating symbolism and clearly alluding to the end of human life, “Soothe Sprayer” and “Death Looms” depict a ghostly skull in flames, contrasted against a neon pink background, and a minimalist, robot-like skull with gleaming red eyes painted on wood, respectively. Too often is the skull’s classical symbolism, a reminder of mortality and humanness, lost in contemporary/pop art; see Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God.”

"Soothe Sprayer"
“Soothe Sprayer”

In contrast, “This Is Not Real,” and “Drinking To Keep You Off My Mind,” are ambiguous in meaning, though Murphy might have you believe that you’ve understood. Each title contains words whose referents are inherently inconceivable: “real”, “keep you off my mind”. Words are spelled-out and repeated on each canvas in asymmetrical patterns, laying emphasis on the relationship between the words and the things they represent in the mind.

“Drinking To Keep You Off My Mind”, “This Is Not Real”, “Hunt’s Point”

Works painted on flattened Prada bags, “Four Four Loko” and “Ice House Still House” invoke consumerism. Relating high-end boutique retail, the Prada bag, to low-end consumer goods, empty bottles and Fourloko cans, poverty is juxtaposed with luxury, highlighting the relationship between the appearance of a thing, its packaging, with its purpose, or its contents. 

“Four Four Loko”
"Ice House Still House"
“Ice House Still House”

“The Dream”, a reinterpretation of Picasso’s work of the same title, omits the erotic nature of the original painting. Picasso’s original controversially depicts the top half of the subject’s face as an erect penis. Murphy’s interpretation seems to replace this shape with a melted brain, distorting the woman’s form, giving her the appearance of being only in part human. Her breasts emanate electric signals and sparks fly where her arms should be.

“The Dream”

Considered together, the works are reminders that human behavior is volatile, lacking in compassion and brimming with prejudice; often more characteristic of a machine than a human being.

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