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February 10 – March 10, 2024
Opening Reception: Friday, February 9, 6 – 8pm

Sara Murphy, Study for Piano, 2023, ink-stained veneer on plywood, 6 x 11.75 inches.

Essex Flowers is pleased to present Tuning; a solo exhibition by Sara Murphy. The show features a new sculpture with sound and a selection of automatic drawings begun in 2018. Piano is a representation of a typical, upright piano, with a body-scaled tweak. The sculpture replaces standard piano keys with eighty-eight traced fingers, laid side by side; which extend the keyboard’s length by sixty percent. One deviation causes another. As with Murphy’s previous work, she embeds tracings of the body into the sculpture’s surface, complicating the subject-object relationship, and suggesting an empathy with our inanimate surroundings. The individualized attention evident in each crafted finger-key, is echoed by the sound emanating from within: not music, but rather the sound of a piano being tuned. It asks its audience to mirror the piano tuner, to attend to the shifts from one note to the next, to listen to him listening and adjusting, as he tenses the strings into harmonious relation.

The piece was inspired by the artist’s father, a piano builder and tuner. They recorded the tuning together in 2020. She describes it as an auto-biographical work: “My Dad makes pianos, and he taught me to make things in wood. So it’s a kind of homage to my beginnings. And I think there’s a sense of precision required for building instruments that I inherited from him, that comes out in how I approach making art. For me it shows in the exacting techniques I use- careful cuts, matching edges- but also in the economy of my moves.” This tendency towards economy is also on display in the gallery’s back room, in a selection of automatic drawings from I.C.O.N. Program. Their process requires that the artist work quickly, using an ink brush pen, to indicate a head and face using only lines traced from her hand. This simple premise calls attention to the limits of legibility. Some results arguably fail in their depiction, while others appear cartoonishly obvious. The images, over 250 in total, strike varying pitches, from pathetic to comic to ghoulish to familiar. Both I.C.O.N. Program and Piano imply a Platonic ideal as their muse, but reach towards it through embodied making. They invite the viewer to attune to the gap.

Sara Murphy (b. 1983) holds a BFA from Memphis College of Art, an MFA from Hunter College and a Certificate in Art Conservation from SACI, Florence. She was a 2016 recipient of the Rema Hort Mann Emerging Artist’s Grant. Her work has been featured in a two-person exhibition at White Columns, and in solo exhibitions at Essex Flowers and Cleopatra’s Gallery, and in group exhibitions at Rachel Uffner Gallery, The Journal Gallery, and Halsey McKay, among others. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

Piano, 2024, Ink-stained plywood and veneer over plywood and pine structure, with recording of piano tuning, 44.75  x  80.75  x  23.5 inches

selected drawings from I.C.O.N. Program, 2018- 2023, Sumi ink on paper, each 9 x 12 inches

Photos: Garrett Carroll