My first voyage to the Painted Bride was for Deirdre Murphy’s Murmurations First Friday reception on October 4. Even about 30 minutes of misdirected walking, a stifling heat that made my hair stick to my face in spiderwebs, and a sort of nervous hunger that ate at my stomach could not dampen my excitement. I had seen photographs of Deirdre’s work, and after briefly interviewing her I knew this was a reception I would have to attend.
The gallery space was cluttered with tables and chairs, and ambient music floated from the adjacent auditorium, but nothing could have directed my attention away from the hypnotic swirl and swarm of the birds on the walls. Deirdre, despite claiming to not be an avid ornithologist, seems to be acutely in tune with the collective conscience of the birds she studies. One can feel sensations of calm, chaos, agitation, and the joyful descent and rise of these animals the way it would naturally occur in the wild.
However, her work did not always focus on flocks. She explained that in the past, the birds felt more like voyeurs, but in 2009, the work needed to change, as did her need to take risks and push into a gestural style. As a teacher at Penn, she described how she pushes her students to be rigorous, and decided that she needed to take her lessons to heart. The overall effect is stunning. Swarms, the chaos theory, the butterfly effect – all of them play a role in her work without being overstated.
Explosive color sometimes pushes around and through the birds; for instance, “Radiance” has birds dancing through intense beams of pink, red, green, and orange. But some of them do not need more than black and white. “Black & White Swarm” showcases a different side of Deirdre’s range and interpretation. Using a graffiti approach, the overall effect is “less beautiful;” it becomes more ominous in its density.
However, my favorites were in a different part of her collection. Despite their dimensions, they had a “big sky feeling,” making it a more manageable panoramic view of the sky. Each piece showed a different part of the day or night, and bird patterns mingled with triangular kite formations, swirling lines, and dots. However, even these abstract elements held a greater significance. The multi-colored lines illustrated currents that carry birds through the clouds, and the dots were actually a graphical representation of the “Day Break Song”.
While these elements are absolutely amazing in the overall work, the beauty of the work as a whole drew me in. Even on the gallery wall, I felt as though I was seeing the scene in person, watching it unfold before me in an endless expanse of sky.
Deirdre Murphy’s Murmurations is on view at the Painted Bride until October 20.