Nancy Murphy Spicer’s Disrupted Drawings

In Carroll and Sons’ back gallery, we can see all but one piece of Nancy Murphy Spicer's exhibition, Disrupted Drawings, before specific works call for undivided attention. The frames hang in grids on two adjacent walls that face large windows overlooking Harrison Avenue. Visitors first walk through the exhibition by Damien Hoar de Galvan to reach Murphy Spicer's show, and the slouchy, distinctly untrendy colors contrast with the blues, reds, and neons that de Galvan incorporates in his wood sculptures. – Shana Dumont Garr, Boston Contributor 

Installation view, Nancy Murphy Spicer, Disrupted Drawings, Carroll and Sons, Boston, MA, July 3 - August 22, 2015

The works are made with acrylic, gouache, and gesso on rice paper, giving their surfaces a delicate finish with subtle wrinkles and Murphy Spicer's loose, rounded brush marks. She began the Disrupted Drawings to embark on a larger scale than her previous series, Biking in Berlin, where each piece was painted and collaged using 5 by 7 inch pages of a guidebook, but retaining the open mood.

In the series Murphy Spicer implements a relaxed and intuitive approach of disruptions and repairs. She says, “I set up a system where I start with a simple shape, break it, repair it, then loosely repaint it, reinforcing the new shape. Then I go through that process again...and again...until the form resolves into some kind of completeness, however awkward.” The resulting forms do not have straightforward cognitive definitions.

Nancy Murphy Spicer | Disrupted Drawing Small 17, 2015, gesso and acrylic with collage on rice paper, 17” X 11 3/4”

Identifying a similarity to the landscape, an object, or an idea may feel like holding a secret between yourself and the work. To my eye, Disrupted Drawing 17, which has stripes with a pink center, resembles a heart. Disrupted Drawing 5 evokes the landscape, but it retains its "nothingness” because it hovers in space without a horizon line or reference to scale. That Murphy Spicer defines this work as drawings, although they're painted with a (purposefully) large brush, tells us the focus is elsewhere, on actions, whether of the body or of the mind. Her sophisticated approach to process involves exploration that may extend into a philosophy of life. The universe will take care of you if you are aware and open. Alternatively, we have no control, and when we stop grasping, meaning will arrive.

Murphy Spicer also titled her earlier Hanging Drawings series with no graphite in sight, but much invitation of shapes. In that work, a long, continuous loop of rope may be placed by the artist or a viewer/collaborator on any number of nails on an otherwise blank, white wall. Once hanging from some of the nails, the rope makes large, graphic gestures, creating  unexpected, sudden, and temporary shapes. Of this piece, Murphy Spicer says, “You could approach the wall and do almost anything and a beautiful drawing could emerge. You don’t really have to try." In both series, a simple set of constraints balances chance and submission to the materials. “What we most prize can often emerge when the least effort is applied and all that is necessary is to just be present and notice what occurs effortlessly,” said Murphy Spicer.

Nancy Murphy Spicer | Disrupted Drawing 1, 2013, gesso, acrylic and gouache with collage on rice paper, 44” x 34.5”. Currently on view at Carroll and Sons, to be included in Boston Drawing Show 2015 in October 2015

Disrupted Drawing 1 is the first in the series. Murphy Spicer said it began as a large yellow orb, and not satisfied with the painting, she cut and rearranged the shapes. Intrigued by the result, she made more cuts and repairs. As a new silhouette emerged, she added more paint to support the new forms. The finished work retains a sense of curiosity, like a puzzle that could take on other potential shapes. Disrupted Drawing 1 and the other large works have an independent, remote feel that provide a framework for how to look at the more recent and complex constructions. Traces of their earlier state can be detected, but their silhouettes make big statements, in the tradition of Matisse's cutouts and Ellsworth Kelly’s paintings.

Nancy Murphy Spicer | Disrupted Drawing Small 18, 2015, gesso and acrylic with collage on rice paper, 16 1/4” x 13 1/4”

In contrast, Disrupted Drawing 18, done in 2015, betrays the complexity of its parts, with four shades of brown and light grey peeking through cut paper layered in an openwork arrangement. The mood of collage or sketching is apparent. The cuts to the initial paintings are invisible, but significant. Implied lines are among the most evocative aspects of these works.

Nancy Murphy Spicer | Disrupted Drawing Small 23, 2015, gesso and acrylic with collage on rice paper, 11 1/2” X 11”

Among the most painterly of the pieces is Disrupted Drawing 23. A striped and dotted tan, yellow, and pink ovoid stands centered on a dark blue background with a distressed texture that is reminiscent of stonewashed jeans. The squared-off cuts accentuate the rounded brush marks, and what was disrupted in the drawing’s creation. The clips hint at absence as well as interruption, but no parts of the painting were discarded. It was important to Murphy Spicer that she incorporate every piece in the finished work, so no segments of the earliest paintings were left out. The brush marks are not continuous, but are all present, the collaging and subsequent mending creating additional textures.

Only one work, Disrupted Drawing 16, incorporates fabric. Beside a soft, painted stack of tangerine and peach, a patch of light green linen hangs with a jaunty angle one may imagine tacked onto a studio wall. The fabric brings to mind how a seamstress or designer may begin their work and gives insight into Murphy Spicer’s task-like, yet intuitive approach. The Disrupted Drawings flirt with the boundaries between fine art, design, and play. Murphy Spicer’s process allows for a balance between strategy and body memory. I couldn’t sum it up better than she did: “I showed up, I took the steps, I was awake, and I sensed when the work was complete.”


Shana Dumont Garr is a writer and contemporary art curator. She is the first Director of Kingston Gallery, an artist-run alternative space in Boston’s SoWa Gallery District, and she teaches art history at Montserrat College of Art. 


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