Erin Murphy

Dead Crane – After Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 2023

50 × 35 cm
The flora and fauna that exist at the boundary between the domestic and the wild have historically been a source or great symbolic interest and engagement. It is at this point – the intersection between the recognisable and legible and the mysterious other of nature – that humans seeks to create and find meaning in imagery. As we, in the modern world, find ourselves less engaged with animal life, animals have lost their place as subject matter in the fine arts. Animal Painting was once an entire genre, the painting I have transcribed and reinterpreted here being a fine example of this. However, animals, particularly those which are semi-domesticated (or entirely), are still symbolically powerful. We recognise and empathise with the fact that they, too, experience emotions and have a psychological reality, yet we cannot access or understand it. As such their representation generates meaning to us in a highly specific and potent manner. Painters of the Rococo period engaged with animals as still life subjects as the Dutch Masters did plants and flowers – as a means by which both composition and beauty can be explored, and symbolic meaning can be harnessed to invoke ideas about religion, politics, and philosophy. I wish to reflect on this practice, as well as the often tacky or kitsch nature of these works, and of the representation of animals through history in general.

Erin Murphy is a 3rd year BFA Painting student at the National Art School, Sydney. Her work seeks to examine symbolic images in the everyday, mainly through the mediums of painting, drawing, and printmaking. Currently residing in the Inner West of Sydney, she draws her source material from found objects and detritus, as well as from the rich and long history of painting and artmaking itself.

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