On the Threshold of the Psyche: Erin Murray at Vox Populi

Installation view, Threshold


By Meredith Sellers

On view through June 25

Enter through a shaped doorway, curving on either side and elegantly dipping down into an inverted arch, and step into the white-walled gallery. The walls are lined with large, finely rendered graphite drawings that have no discernable marks, and which seem to float on the walls. They’re more than just drawings – deep, dark, and luminous, mimicking the shape of windows, doors, sconces, curtains, grates, and car mats – they’re layered images that become portals of architectural mnemonics. Erin Murray’s show, Threshold, at Vox Populi explores time and memory through new images of accumulated architectural details appropriated from small moments of daily life in her neighborhood in Kensington, as well as sourced from the internet.

Erin Murray, Clear to Close


For many years, Murray’s practice was relatively straightforward. She drove around, found a building she considered interesting, and would stop and take a picture. Those photographs then became the basis of faithfully-rendered architectural drawings. Delicate, clinical, and dead on, not dissimilar to the photographs of the Bernd and Hilla Becher, these earlier drawings had an air of reserve, and a coyness in their straightforward perfectionism.

With this new series, she forces herself away from that reliance on the found image. Capturing images of architectural details on her phone, she printed them out and made paper cutouts of them, rendering them totally flat. She made a small box, like a diorama, in which she placed the cutouts, taping them up in layers of foreground, middle ground background, and then rephotographed them, working from the newly-constructed images. These constructions reintroduced an element of play into Murray’s work, and became the basis for her mysterious new drawings.


Erin Murray, Scaffold


The drawings in Threshold are imbued with light, but have no discernible light source. Instead, light appears to exude from them, or perhaps be absorbed into them. At first glance they look symmetrical, but upon closer examination, the symmetry is revealed to be imperfect, off-center, shifting. The works are marked by sharp edges and soft gradients of shadow that linger and settle within each drawing’s shapes. There is a flirtation with elements that feel utterly familiar, like trying to remember all the minute details of your grandmother’s house on a sluggish summer afternoon. The etched glass of a front door, sunshine streaming through a translucent curtain, the pattern of a grate on the sidewalk. These harbingers of nostalgia are met with an adept, hard- edged abstraction. Reduced to pattern and shape, Murray’s drawings reveal more of themselves the longer you gaze into them.

Erin Murray, Threshold

Looking at the show’s eponymous drawing, “Threshold” (2017), my eye darted back and forth between two curved forms that rise nearly into the center of the drawing. Below them is a curious jagged edge, light streaming around it, and lines of luscious, inky black snaking under. My mind made it into a desert mountain with a small stream running at its base, like a late Georgia O’Keefe painting, devoid of her earlier flowery exuberance, contemplating the desolate, arid, New Mexico landscape. Murray’s flat shapes have lush, delicate gradients delineated by hard edges, lending the drawings a commonality with early modernists like O’Keefe, Charles Sheeler, or Ansel Adams. Like those modernists, Murray’s work resides somewhere between representation and abstraction, but it is also in conversation with contemporary painters like Angela Heisch and Anne Neucamp.

Erin Murray, Underarch

The sleek darkness of the drawings and their layered imagery lend the works a reflective quality, like looking into the darkened screen of a cell phone when you see both your screen and the reflected environment around you simultaneously. You feel that you recognize the shapes within these drawings –  this one looks like a window on an old Victorian house, that one resembles a car mat, another feels like a chintzy decorative door frame I’m certain I’ve passed through before. They hold a sense of familiarity and uncanniness, but they’re jumbled together in such a way that the image’s specificity of place and the cultural connotations that come with it are neutralized, creating an undefinable experience of memory, time, and space.

Murray’s drawings confuse assumptions about physical space, reflecting the soft, mysterious haze of an interior psychological space – the shifts in our own person we sometimes experience while sifting through memories. The drawings embody a feeling sensed in Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon, Bergman’s Persona, or Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. It’s a feeling of both pleasure and sadness, of ennui and excitement, a pleasant staleness when we retreat into our own psyche and travel backward and forward in time, thinking about both everything and nothing in particular.


Installation view, Threshold
Installation view, Threshold


Meredith Sellers is an artist and writer living and working in Philadelphia. She is an editor for Title Magazine, writes regularly for Hyperallergic, and has had her writing appear in ArtsJournal, Pelican Bomb, The Artblog, The St. Claire, and Daily Serving. She has exhibited her work at ICA Philadelphia, Lord Ludd, the Icebox Project Space, and Delaware County Community College, and Vox Populi.