Born in Chicago in 1940, Ms. Murray had a hardscrabble childhood that included bouts of homelessness caused in part by the ill health of her father. Ms. Murray traced her interest in art to watching a nursery-school teacher cover a sheet of paper with thick red crayon, an experience that she said gave her an indelible sense of the physicality of color. She drew constantly from an early age, inspired mostly by newspaper comic strips, and once sent a sketchbook to Walt Disney asking for a job as his secretary. By the fifth grade she was selling erotic drawings to classmates for a quarter.
And today a lovely appreciation, also via NYTimes:
Appreciations: Elizabeth Murray
By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
Published: August 14, 2007
There are so many separations in every artist’s life — the projects that live only in the mind, the ones that go no further than a few sketches and, of course, the divorce that takes place when a work is really and truly finished and begins to live on its own. For those of us who celebrated the life and work of Elizabeth Murray, who died of cancer on Sunday at age 66, we mourn our separation from both.
Her paintings will be with us for years and years to come, teasing us, resisting us, giving life to something in her that could only find expression in an almost erotic sense of color and shape. People will come upon her work and wonder about the woman who made it, and she will take the place that every artist eventually takes — overshadowed by the constructs of her imagination.
But we — many of us New Yorkers — have been lucky to have known the woman herself. I have never met anyone in whom frankness and delicacy combined in the way they did in Elizabeth. Her eyes were very bold, and her face seemed constructed to make sure you couldn’t miss that boldness. There was a wildness blowing through her, and to talk to her was to feel that she was consciously effacing, for your benefit, something that would unhinge you if she let it out, which she did in her work. That was before cancer.
And if you happened to see her in the past year, frail and bald and as direct in the eye as ever, you knew that there was no effacing the knowledge of death, or the fresh understanding of life that that knowledge gives.
Elizabeth Murray’s death is enough to teach you how separate and undisclosing an artist’s work always is. And it reminds you how imperfect the very idea of artistic expression is. We know the work rises from within her, but it doesn’t describe her or capture her. Perhaps it’s best to say simply that it expresses what she thought it was possible to express with the tools she chose. It was central to her idea of herself, and yet the reference it makes to the living woman will now become more and more oblique. The work will live on in the durable world. But the memory of the artist lives on only in us, who are made of the same impermanent stuff that she was.