The Rapidian

UICA Interview: Rebecca Murtaugh

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/Rebecca Murtaugh

/Rebecca Murtaugh

/Rebecca Murtaugh

UICA's Director of Education, Elizabeth Goddard, had an opportunity to ask Rebecca Murtaugh a few questions about her art and her life as a working artist in Brooklyn, New York. Murtaugh received her Bachelors of Science from Pennsylvania State University and her Masters of Fine Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her artwork, Seeing Stars and Sweetest Battle, will be on exhibit at UICA from June 11 through August 6.

On your website you write that the idea of danger and defense was a motivation for creating Sweetest Battle and Seeing Stars. Can you describe how the physical and psychological states of danger and defense contributed to the work?  

Murtaugh: I began the Sweetest Battle and Seeing Stars series when my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer a number of years ago. He was my best friend and a lifetime artist and craftsperson. In the series I wanted to depict something beautiful emerging from something painful. It was my intention to beautify the objects associated with the brutality of boxing by making them alluring and to evoke a feeling of curiosity, longing, sweetness, and sensuality. The color choices in the series relate to the body, especially to bruising, which is our body’s mechanism that leads to healing.

Can you explain the process in creating these pieces? Do you begin with an actual pair of boxing gloves or a punching bag?

Murtaugh: I began the Sweetest Battle pieces by casting an actual punching bag. These pieces are thin hollow plaster casts covered with thermoplastic and latex paint. The Seeing Stars pieces are altered boxing gloves that have been sewn, stuffed then covered with thermoplastic and latex paint. The hanging devices are made from cut and heat bent acrylic.

How did you arrive at thermoplastic materials as a medium? What was it about the material that got you hooked?  

Murtaugh: I was a pastry chef for a number of years and worked in the medium of ceramics in graduate school. The material characteristics of dough, chocolate, and clay are somewhat similar to thermoplastic. I find myself driven and inspired by materials that have a transient nature. Materials that can shift states of matter in a transformative manner have been of particular interest to me in recent years. I am drawn to thermoplastic as it is malleable when heated to a liquid, then solidifies as it cools. It is a luscious material that begs to be touched. It tempts the viewer. I love to experiment in the studio in the same manner someone might with a recipe in the kitchen. I am a bit of mad scientist in the studio. I would also say that I am drawn to surface and color, so covering objects was an obvious choice. The weight and cost of thermoplastic makes it more efficient and economical for larger scale works as a surface treatment.

To Mark A Significant Space in the Living Room, #1 is created using the everyday Post-It Note. Post-It Notes and plastic seem to be at very different points on the materiality spectrum.  But perhaps they are closer in conception with regards to consumer culture. In general how do you choose the materials you want to work with?

Murtaugh:  That is a very good question. You are correct, paper and plastic are on different points of the materiality spectrum. I find myself intrigued with many materials I come into contact with, some for their formal properties like surface and color, and others for their inherent conceptual potential. My daily experience in contemporary culture plays a huge part in my materials choices and starting points in the studio. For example, I am highly organized and use color a lot for organization, hence my choice of the Post-it Note. My love of the Post-it Note™ was motivated by its use for marking and carrying important information, much as one might indicate a passage in a book, or leave a message on the refrigerator. This disposable yet beautiful material often carries valuable information, if even for a moment. In the same vein, I have been collecting packaging materials, such as Styrofoam, from our technology services the college where I teach. Styrofoam protects something valuable for a period of time, and then is discarded. The relationship of value and temporality is present in much of my work, which in turn informs my material choices.  I am intrigued by the idea of the contemporary artifact and museological methods.

Is there a particular direction your artwork is moving in today?  

Murtaugh: As I have been working on this show for some time I have been playing a lot more in the studio. When I have the opportunity for a solo exhibition I look forward to new work coming alive in the gallery. I am interested in blurring the line between studio and the white cube. For Temptations, half of the gallery will feature the Seeing Stars and Sweetest Battle series. The remaining two walls will house Styrofoam encased work. I have not yet titled the work, but the Styrofoam “units” will function as contemporary cabinets of wonder of material investigations from my studio.

You can see more of Rebecca Murtaughs work on her website:

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 Nice interview. Thanks for posting!