Emily and the Cosmos
Annie Murphy-Robinson, like a hurt, caged animal or a restless convict doing a life stretch, draws furiously, hour after hour, in a small cubicle her husband built for her in their garage. Her cell is close to, but a world apart from, the couple's otherwise happy, toy-strewn, daughter-cluttered, ranch-style home in Carmichael. A pastel scene of convention.
In her studio, tread carefully -- there is a cold concrete floor. There is a lone, naked bulb that burns from the rafters. There is a dollhouse inhabited by some kind of feathery taxidermy specimen. There, off to the side, appearing playful and innocent, is an apple-red bicycle with chubby training wheels. How menacing can a peewee bicycle be?
In this realm of duplicity, plenty. Here, too, are the tools of her trade, which include a belt sander, pads of fine-grade sandpaper, a soft, white, smudged gym sock, stubs of charcoal, gobs of erasers and a seemingly inexhaustible inkwell of dread, joy, pain, memory, exaltation, anxiety, fear. Murphy-Robinson, draws standing up, on the garage's back wall, which is painted white. There, in hazy silhouette, are the accumulated residue and marginalia of earlier work. Viewed darkly, it appears as though someone took the chalked carpet of a crime scene and pinned it to the wall. Some of her drawings, lined in tissue, are piled haphazardly on the floor. She peels them off, one by one, like layers of skin. Most are large-scale but highly intimate drawings of her two daughters, Emily and Casey. Both are towheaded cherubs. All of the artworks are drawn from photographs, the portrait sittings of which are austerely lit by a single light source. In many of the drawings, one can see an electrical cord trailing in back like a slithering serpent. The drawings are intense, the subjects invariably solemn.
This is not a family scrapbook. Songs of innocence. It's more a personal journal. Notes from the underground. Yet another sumptuous drawing shows a pensive Emily in half-profile, the shadows so deep and saturated they resemble a midnight sea. "I always feel guilty when I look at this," says Murphy-Robinson, gazing at her daughter's expression of longing and appeal. "Like I should be spending more time playing with her than in my studio."
This is just one of her many urgencies.
–excerpted from an article by Bob Sylva, Sacramento Bee