Kitty Murphy. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Kitty Murphy shows her paintings in the gallery once owned by her father, the late Stan Murphy. Photo by Ralph Stewart

Kitty Murphy and Enos Ray team up

By Brooks Robards - September 14, 2006

Like complementary colors, artists Kitty Murphy and Enos Ray balance their different approaches to art in a new show which opened Sunday, September 10 at the Stanley Murphy Gallery in Chilmark.

Stanley Murphy, Ms. Murphy's father who died in July of 2003, was a renowned painter of Vineyard people and places and he exhibited his work at the gallery for many years. Now a giant painting of Elvis Presley by Mr. Ray has become the tiny gallery's new signpost. Mr. Ray removed it from a Middle Road vegetable stand for restoration after much of the paint fell off. He jokingly calls the gallery Martha's Vineyard's first-ever Elvis Presley museum.

In addition to her colorful, dream-like paintings, Ms. Murphy is displaying a collection of gemstone jewelry she made last winter after attending a gem show in Marlboro. On display are a variety of necklaces and earrings made of mother of pearl, quartz, Venetian glass, citrine, crystals, amber, chalcedony, magnetite, and aventurine, among other substances.

Ms. Murphy's love of color led her to branch out into jewelry several years ago, and her gemstone combinations benefit from her highly developed sense of color. The colors she pairs in her jewelry match the palette she uses in her paintings.

Enos Ray. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Enos Ray, in an Elvis Presley shirt, at the last weekend's opening reception.

A painting inspired by the time Ms. Murphy spent in the West Indies during what she calls her "misspent" youth uses vivid purple to depict a donkey accompanied by a flute player in a rich shade of brown. The two stand in a thicket of tropical green foliage under lushly blue-clouded skies tinted with echoes of purple.

"I think people find the colors highly suspect, but that's the way I saw it for an instant," Ms. Murphy says.

A Colorado landscape portrays a broad strip of blue-gray mountains in the background, and the painter has extended their radiance into the plow lines of the green fields in mid-ground. Two Vineyard-based landscapes have vivid yellow-orange fields, purple clouds, a duet of greens for woods and bright blue waters. The blocks of powerful colors in these paintings push their composition toward abstraction. Both Ms. Murphy and Mr. Ray are primarily studio painters and don't go out in the field that often, although they enjoy it when they do.

Musical inspiration

Mr. Ray is showing a varied collection of his work, including new portraits of black musicians, landscapes, black dancers and an inventive new series of pen and ink drawings. Both he and Ms. Murphy have prints available, as well as original works. He has included an artist's proof of a work from his musician's series that he liked even though the colors were not true.

Four of Mr. Ray's portraits of musicians dominate the back wall of the gallery. While a more somber range of colors appears in many of Mr. Ray's paintings, his Band Boys seem to borrow a page from Ms. Murphy's palette book.

Cliffs, a beach, and rich colors inspire Kitty Murphy. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Cliffs, a beach, and rich colors inspire Kitty Murphy.

"I learn from her when I want to know something about color," he says. A piano man wears a blue hat with a feather in the band, while a sinuous line of smoke drifts up from the cigarette hanging casually from his mouth and floats through a yellow swatch of background. In another portrait, a man playing a red guitar wears a deep purple hat and a bright pink tie.

Particularly in Mr. Ray's musician portraits, form and line combine to take off together in flights of fancy that capture the vitality of the music as well as personality.

"I never know where it (inspiration) comes from," he says. "Usually it's 'wham' and I'm done, but for some reason I wanted to learn from them (the new portraits), so I spent all winter on them."

In a portrait where an electric guitar player hunches over his instrument like a bullfrog, the artist has deftly captured the man's fingers moving on the frets and even details like his strong fingernails. He floats a hat over the head of a green-jacketed musician whose bright yellow horn seems to loom out of the man's hands.

Other small distortions or details give finesse to the portrait of a violinist, who holds a fat violin and whose face is defined by blue-lined shadows. In another portrait, the horn player's dimple-cheeked embouchure and fingernails help animate the portrait.

One of the boys in the band from Enos Ray's jazz series. Photo by Ralph Stewart
One of the boys in the band from Enos Ray's jazz series.

Mr. Ray takes full advantage of the freedom of pen and ink in a lively series of drawings. One portrays what may be an interment, where a group of large-faced people stand in a graveyard lined with barb wire. Foliage and sky swirl off the pen above them. Two others have a Miro-esque quality.

Mr. Ray's and Ms. Murphy's show will continue until the end of September, daily, from 1 to 6 pm.

Brooks Robards is a poet, author, and former college film instructor who lives in Oak Bluffs and Northampton. She frequently contributes stories on art, film, and poetry to the Times.