Artist Meghan Murphy’s new rules

Meghan Murphy paints giant women who eat men. There doesn’t need to be more to that.

Courtesy of Meghan Murphy

Courtesy of Meghan Murphy

Courtesy of Meghan Murphy

Sophie Vilensky

When she was an undergrad, a classmate told Meghan Murphy her work reminded him of middle school. She’d painted a bunch of Tim Burton-esque dolls floating in yellow and wearing lingerie — a study in tragedy and empowerment that come with being aware of sexuality at a young age. But the classmate just saw trivial little girl art.  

Today, Murphy works in Minneapolis and Portland. Her works are flat and full of childlike wonder, with palettes that would stir jealousy in an Anthropologie sales rack.

Just like it was in college, her art is girlish. Really girlish, actually.

She paints giant women who eat men.

Murphy graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2009 with a triple-degree in visual art, art history and English. During her time at the University, she worked as editor-in-chief of the Tower (previously the Ivory Tower). It was here she met her best friend, Jamie Millard.

“I was intimidated,” Millard said of their first encounter. “She could do anything.”

The two would go on to found the art and literary magazine, Paper Darts (Murphy runs it by herself now). They still work together at Pollen — a community based non-profit in Minneapolis.

Murphy grew up in a rural Wisconsin town — the kind of town where you’re “not supposed to like art.” As a child, her parents bought a dilapidated motel to fix up. As this fixing took place, Murphy would sit in the corner and draw her dog — “over and over and over.” She’d also draw her sister. And her sister’s friend, “over and over and over.”

Eventually, Murphy’s teachers just allowed her to draw in class. She’d copy old pieces, like an unfinished Mary Cassatt study of a little girl in a red dress with a big hat.

“One of the first things I understood about art was [Cassatt’s] work,” Murphy said.

Years later, University art history professor Jennifer Marshall would reintroduce Murphy to the prints of Cassatt: flat, intimate portraits of women in the domestic sphere.

Marshall remembers Murphy’s attention to detail in class and her creative approach to writing about art history.

As for the work Murphy’s creating today? Marshall has some thoughts about it too.

“They’re beautiful,” Marshall said. “Unique [and] really complicated.”

Ever the art history professor, Marshall connects Murphy’s pieces to a number of things: quilt-making and applique, thread work, medieval and devotional art, stained glass windows, goddess-like forms, Lisa Frank and Lynda Barry cartoons.

Among these semblances are pieces that have traditionally been looked down upon in the art world because of their female and folksy backgrounds.

“There are loaded assumptions about how woman paint,” Murphy said. “You’re immediately put into a cliche. Therapeutic art is not considered high art.”

But Murphy’s work is like therapy — for her, and for those who view it. It’s considered trivial by some, profound by others. It’s girlish and it belongs in a gallery no less because of this.

So no, there’s no kicker about how Murphy proved the boy in class wrong by moving on to more “classic” subject matter.

She wanted — and still wants — her work to feel like trivial little girl art. The colors, the poses, the flatness.

“If you’re a person — especially a woman — who wants to feel powerful and to be reminded of your power, her work belongs on your walls,” Millard said.

“The women are so big, such giantesses, nothing can hurt them anymore,” Murphy writes on her website. “They eat and they eat and they eat. They grow and they grow and they grow.”