Lyndsey Ingram presents Harbour Island, a selection of new paintings and monoprints by Suzy Murphy made from her travels to the Bahamian retreat. The artist visited at the invitation of David Flint Wood, a long-time resident of the island who is passionate about her work. Murphy keeps extensive visual diaries of her trips, translating these miniature oils and charcoal sketches into finished works once back in her London studio. View Suzy Murphy's Harbour Island diary here.
David Flint Wood writes:
I visited the studio of Suzy Murphy in London about four years ago and set my heart on a painting, which I’m glad to say I now own.
‘Burning’ is the silhouette of a farmhouse in snow with glowing orange in the glass panels of a door. There… there are tracks in the snow before the door.
I can never decide if the tracks lead towards the door, with the prospect of a warm welcome.., or away from it, with someone having set a fire and left. Are we ‘burning’ with desire or ‘burning’ in anger – or both?
In a slack sort of shorthand I tend to transfer my description of creative forms from one to another, more often than not ending up with film references, and I always think of Suzy’s paintings in the context of David Lynch: ‘Twin Peaks’, ‘Mulholland Drive’ and ‘Blue Velvet’, films where superficially pretty scenery, shop fronts, lakes and roads, cabins and night drives dissolve into scenes of heartbreakingly beautiful prom queens struggling for their lives in slow-mo, while the Cowboy Junkies croon “Hold on To Me…”
It may just be me – and I have never presumed to ask Suzy outright whether the darkness on the edge of town says more about me than it does her – but there is ambiguity in all her work: for example, in such personal works, where are the people?
Even if we know where they are: in the truck, by the fire or behind the window looking back at us, what are they doing? I am pretty certain that they are like figures from Edward Hopper: guarding their thoughts and keeping their opinions to themselves.
I was intrigued to see what Suzy would make of island life in this context, particularly Harbour Island, where she stayed in my house for a fortnight and yet seemed too busy to ever come for a drink or dinner... – and now we see why.
This island is, even by West Indian standards, ridiculously pretty: sorbet-coloured houses with their storm shutters in the town, coconut palms, walled gardens, mango trees overhanging narrow streets and a beach the colour of peach skin. All of the tourist brochure stuff is here.
But islands are by definition ‘insular’. There is an ambiguity in the closed-off settlements, where people are bound together yet crave privacy; where they are surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean and an infinite horizon, and yet live within the paper-thin walls of adjacent houses, that only muffles the amorous whispers and arguments…
We can sense some of this mood in the pretty-as-pink colonial house surrounded by a jungle that seems to step in closer at dusk in Suzy’s ‘The Edge of the Lawn’ and in the way night drops like a cloth after blinding sunshine in ‘Of Darkness’.
‘Hiding Under Trees’, ‘This is My View’ and ‘Hanging’ all return to the familiar Suzy Murphy territory of the attendant truck or car...; they could be simply parked in the shade, waiting for work to finish..., or just waiting… Are they empty or carrying islanders murmuring in Joseph Conrad’s “soft voices… boasting with composure, joking quietly…”?
I started to think about this a couple of months ago but much has changed since then.
I was going to write about isolation and how Suzy’s pictures give a sense of distance and solitariness, but this now seems a topic rather too topical – and certainly too frequently picked over by now in the months of Corona.
I don’t want to end on the idea that this work is only remote and isolated. I think the pictures have great wit, are humanist, engaging and speculative... They are personal and, like a good movie or song, we can connect and indulge in our own interpretation of the events... and their outcomes.
“Islands are magnets for people with stories,” as I said to Suzy.