The New Math

Geometry rules in the current attractions at the Singer Gallery.

Simon Zalkind, the director of the Singer Gallery at the Mizel Arts Center, has some obvious strengths as an exhibit organizer -- he has a good eye, he's an expert when it comes to hanging a show and, most of all, he's relentlessly creative. Zalkind shows off all three talents in Lauri Lynnxe Murphy: Baroque Minimalist and Gridlock, a pair of shows that are both midway through their runs at Singer.

The starting point for Zalkind was Denver artist Murphy. "I'd wanted to do something with Lauri for a while," he says. "I was interested in her use of multiple panels arranged in grids."

But, artists being artists, Murphy took issue with Zalkind, despite the exhibition opportunity he was offering her. "For me, the grid is simply a compositional device," she says, "and that's why I came up with the show's subtitle, Baroque Minimalist." By dismissing the grid as so much decoration, Murphy separates her work from the post- and neo-minimalist crowd whose mathematical musings are shown in spades in the accompanying Gridlock.

"Stupidstar," by Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, mixed-media painting.
"Stupidstar," by Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, mixed-media painting.
"31 Flavors (Plus Super Deluxe Flavor)," by Evan Colbert, acrylic on panel.
"31 Flavors (Plus Super Deluxe Flavor)," by Evan Colbert, acrylic on panel.

Murphy says her multiple-panel format isn't paying homage to the repetitive compositions of the 1960s minimalists (as the work of the post- and neo-minimalists does), but is the outgrowth of her childhood interest in comix, the often outrageous and edgy alternative to traditional comics. "I started out as a cartoonist," she says. "I was a member of the Hector Group [an underground comix cooperative] even before I joined Edge [a local art co-op]. I'm so glad that Tom Motley's Hector cartoons are in the Gridlock show; he was an important early influence for me."

While still a student at Metropolitan State College of Denver in 1993, Murphy, a women's studies major, began to pursue her interest in the fine arts. It was then that she created her first paintings in multi-panel formats. Her aim was to bring to painting the idea of sequential narration found in cartooning. "In that sense," Murphy says, "my work is more related to film or music than to other kinds of fine art."

But despite her interest in narrative content, Murphy doesn't have an exact idea about how the multiple panels should be arranged. So, they're not meant to be "read" in any specific order. "It's really collaborative, because I force the curators to contextualize their own takes on the painting."

A case in point is demonstrated by the recently completed "Giddy-Up-Go," in which one panel was accidentally left out in the Singer show. "I inadvertently left one panel behind in the studio," Murphy says, "and by the time I got it to the gallery, Simon had already hung the show. But I loved the way it looked, the way he hung it, so I decided to just leave the missing panel out." In its current configuration, "Giddy-Up-Go" is made up of eight panels hung in two vertical stacks of four. The eight panels are each done in a different style, and each has a different subject. As she frequently does, Murphy has attached or embedded found objects, including, in this piece, red plastic reflectors, a baby moon hubcap, a Christmas tree deodorizer and a Peterbilt sticker.

Murphy compares her paintings to diary entries; "Giddy-Up-Go," she says, is about a childhood ambition -- she wanted to be a trucker. "Remember that trucker craze in the '80s?" she asks with a giggle. "I was just totally into that. 'Giddy-Up-Go' is subtitled 'Red Sovine,' the name of a country-and-Western singer who did a song called 'Talk to Teddy Bear' about truckers on CBs talking to an abused kid whose handle is 'Teddy Bear.' It's so kitsch and awful I just had to do a piece about it." A direct reference to the Sovine song is the panel on which a teddy bear covered with, in Murphy's words, "tar and goo," has been affixed.

Another new piece is "Carcinoma," a nine-panel square, mostly red, including red glitter, that concerns a more serious detail of Murphy's biography, her mother's repeated bouts of cancer. "I often do pieces about cancer," Murphy says. "I think of them as talismans used to exorcise the demons -- that doing the paintings is going to protect me. I don't really believe it, but it gives me the emotional release."

"Factory," a mostly silver piece, is about Murphy's art as opposed to her life. It was inspired by Andy Warhol's studio, called "the Factory," which the artist lined with aluminum foil. "There's no artist in my generation who hasn't been influenced by Warhol," Murphy notes. "It goes without saying." She lists other mentors from the annals of art history, notably Jean-Michel Basquiat. But most of the others are so obscure as to be entirely unknown.

The show is filled out by older pieces. There's 1999's "Conjugation," a sixteen-panel exploration of the "hopes and fears" of marriage, and "Stupidstar," done the same year, about the trials and tribulations of being a local art star.

The Murphy solo is hung on the diagonal center walls at Singer and is thus a show within a show, because the accompanying exhibit, Gridlock, has been installed on the perimeter walls around it.

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