Exhibition Meg Lionel Murphy SPRING/BREAK The Untitled Space Work on paper

Meg Lionel Murphy “The Keep”
A Special Project Presented by The Untitled Space

625 Madison Avenue between 58th and 59th Street
Room 1058

September 8th – September 13th 2021

Tickets via EVENTBRITE

Meg Lionel Murphy Exhibit Artwork, SPRING/BREAK Art Show, New York

The Untitled Space is pleased to present “The Keep” a Solo Special Project at SPRING/BREAK Art Show of works by artist Meg Lionel Murphy on view from September 8th through September 13th, 2021. “The Keep,” curated by Indira Cesarine, will be part of the “HEARSAY:HERESY” medieval themed exhibitions presented at the 10th Anniversary of SPRING/BREAK.

For “The Keep” artist Meg Lionel Murphy transforms herself into a cloistered, mystical time-traveling nun who is building a shrine within a castle’s keep. The keep was traditionally built as a last resort—as a space to await the end. Lionel Murphy will welcome viewers to enter the sacred space as if they are a medieval heroine escaping an enemy.

Lionel Murphy works out of a little blue shack in a Wisconsin junkyard, where she paints heartbroken giants that magically grow larger, stronger, and scarier than the world around them. Her work has long borrowed phantasmagorical imagery of the medieval era—rainbows, manic flowers, lightning bolts, angels, and unicorns—but safety is the ultimate fantasy of the work. There is no safety in our world so Lionel Murphy escapes to an imaginary land, far, far away. Unable to fit inside the architecture of their old lives, her giants search for a place that can safely hold their new bodies. As they wander, they find more femme bodies stretched long by pain.

Just as early medieval Christianity built upon folk and ancient religious icons and stories, this shrine, “The Keep,” will blend the myth of the giants upon Catholic iconography. Such a collision of ideas parallels Lionel Murphy’s own unlearning and retelling as she grew up and left her rural life embedded in Midwestern conservative Catholicism.

Meg Lionel Murphy Exhibit Artwork, SPRING/BREAK Art Show, New York

The title of the exhibition and installation, “The Keep”, references the girlish ideal of the castle, but also all that is lost as a girl’s body becomes feminized and perceived by the patriarchal, sexual gaze. Lionel Murphy asks many questions with her work. What should be kept from femininity as it continues to evolve into a less binary social space? What should we hold on to from childhood as we face very real, very adult traumas? And perhaps most heretically in such a liberal space as the SPRING/BREAK Art Show— what might an urgent, modern prayer or ritual look like, especially for a body in danger?

Within the safe space of “The Keep”, the participant will have time to contemplate such questions, by either sitting on a decadent chair or kneeling upon a Catholic Church kneelers. Once settled in the castle, they might notice a surprising arrangement of bathroom fixtures, because the safest space in a modern home is the bathroom. This is true during natural disasters like tornadoes or hurricanes. It is also the safest place in a house during domestic abuse because it is often the only room in a house with a lock. The bathroom motif is also a nod to the folk tradition in Wisconsin to use bathtubs as shrines for Madonna statues.

Meg Lionel Murphy Exhibit Artwork, SPRING/BREAK Art Show, New York

The focal point of “The Keep” is three arched panels decorated as devotional reliquaries, each tucked with offerings of paintings, toys, intimate objects, and flowers. The three arches will focus on medieval catholic visual tropes: body hair, breastfeeding, and blood. The body hair shrine takes inspiration from modern movements to embrace natural hair, but also references the medieval folk Saint Wilgefortis, who grew a beard in order to escape a forced marriage. The breastfeeding shrine depicts modern femme bodies nursing elaborating on the way breast milk spurted in outrageous fashion from the Medieval depictions of the Virgin Mary’s breasts. The blood shrine focuses on menstruation as well as a nod to the iconic devotional imagery of Jesus bleeding profusely as the “Man of Sorrows”. 

Lionel Murphy sees a direct relation within her work to the ecstasy and torture of medieval art. Lionel Murphy’s medieval fascination with persecuted saints and virgin-obsessed unicorns mirrors the rampant destruction of the modern young woman’s mind and body through sexual, emotional, and physical violence while perpetuating a celebratory but toxic brand of white femininity in mass culture. The danger of patriarchy is real, across lands far and near. So dangerous that even in the land of Meg Lionel Murphy’s giants, a princess will probably not be saved. But there is hope in the afterlife — that after trauma, our heroine might just magically grow into a giant herself.

Meg Lionel Murphy Exhibit Artwork, SPRING/BREAK Art Show, New York


Artist Meg Lionel Murphy’s paintings are directly influenced by her personal experiences, as she copes with debilitating PTSD from severe domestic violence. She works out of a little blue shack in a junkyard on her family’s property in Wisconsin, where she paints detailed, vivid works on paper and panels depicting heartbroken bodies that magically grow larger, stronger, and scarier than the world around them. Her paintings of the female form as giantess unconquerable figures address their experiences of pain, trauma, and healing as well as their interactions with the environments they consume as they assert their power. Her work depicts a reverence for fragility and humanity while examining questions about whiteness, gender, sexuality, class, sacrifice, pain, sickness, loneliness, and most of all—violence and its haunting memories.

Meg Lionel Murphy received degrees in Art, Art History, and English Literature from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, where she additionally studied classical oil painting in Florence, Italy. After college, Murphy worked as a children’s illustrator and co-founded a literary and art magazine, Paper Darts. She also helped to run the arts nonprofit, Pollen Midwest, that uses storytelling and art to explore social justice movements. After leaving her career in publishing to focus on painting, Murphy eventually moved to rural Wisconsin to focus on her art without distraction. Her artwork has been presented in exhibitions throughout the US, including her 2021 solo show “Traumatica Dramatica” at The Untitled Space (New York), 2020 solo shows “Interior Violence” at CoExhibitions Gallery (Minneapolis), and “Meg Lionel Murphy” online solo show presented The Untitled Space, as well as a number of group shows including at Public Functionary (Minneapolis), Jolby And Friends (Portland), Waiting Room Gallery (Minneapolis), the Other Art Fair (Los Angeles), and “Art4Equality” Exhibition and Public Art Billboard in collaboration with SaveArtSpace, October – November 2020. Murphy’s artwork has been featured in a variety of publications including Forbes, GirltalkHQ, Art Publika, Interlocateur, Tartarus, Bitch Magazine, Mutual Art, Brown Paper Bag, MPLS Art, Mulieris Magazine, Neut Magazine, 360 Magazine, and The Untitled Magazine.

SPRING/BREAK Art Show is an artist-run annual exhibition in the form of an art fair. It continues its mission to foster exploratory exhibitions in atypical art environments, and encouraging focused programs on emerging and mid-career artists, as well as installation, performance, interactive, and video work.

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