Caitlyn Murphy’s heavenly paintings of the cling film-wrapped details of a dry cleaners

Following years of painting the details of storefronts, the artist steps inside the establishments, finding a whole new level of detail.

13 August 2020

A fair few years back now, we had the pleasure of writing about the work of Toronto-based artist Caitlyn Murphy. Her output at the time looked at the small pleasures of everyday life, largely by capturing the overflowing produce of storefronts. A scene most pass by regularly, with her point of view and gouache medium, the pieces somehow made piles of bananas or clusters of boxes look like accidental sculptures. It’s fair to say we were hooked already, and recently, Caitlyn reeled us in further by dropping us an e-ail that essentially read, you know those storefronts I used to paint… I’ve headed inside now.

This move in location, albeit small, has seen Caitlyn creating some of her best work to date. In particular, this is seen in Five Dresses, a series of paintings the artist has recently exhibited of clingfilm-wrapped clothing items and the ephemera around them in dry cleaning stores. To some, it may seem like a natural progression of Caitlyn’s artistic eye to simply hop, skip and jump to new cluttered objects to paint, yet the actual journey of getting to this point has taken a little longer, and involves a trip to Finland.

“I have learned so much in the few years since we spoke last,” Caitlyn explains as we catch-up. Notably, she outlines how she’s gained confidence in “trusting my intuition and following my instincts” paired with her natural disposition as a daydreamer and “learning how to focus those ideas and thoughts, and channel them into my art-making,” she describes. By figuring out how to develop this kind of creative funnel, it was one experience in Finland that informed the introduction of pattern to her work.


Caitlyn Murphy: Soft Story from Five Dresses (Copyright © Caitlyn Murphy)

In 2017, Caitlyn’s partner completed an artist residency in Espoo, Finland, and the artist joined him for the end of his stay. “I loved it so much,” she says, “I applied to the same residency until I was accepted myself last year.” While in the country the artist was surrounded by Finnish design icons, from Arabia, Marimekko and Dora Jung and, “to make a long, boring story short, all of these thoughts and interests converged one day when I was putting away laundry in my closet,” reads her artist statement on the series. “There in front of me I saw beautiful, patterned dresses hanging side by side, next to old plastic garment bags with faded yellow dry cleaning receipts still attached.”

The series and subsequent exhibition were then inspired by dropping off and picking up the same rotating cast of dresses in various dry cleaners in Toronto. Looking out for details to paint at home, “my approach changed for sure,” she tells It’s Nice That. “In hindsight, it almost feels like it was an act of commitment on the path to becoming the painter I want to be,” she adds when specifically discussing her decision to move inside in subject. “I have always had an affinity for film and literature that explores place and time, where the setting play just as big of a role as the characters. To combine this interest with my own painting practice was kind of invigorating.”

Going on to recall her earlier inspiration and works coming “from what I saw on walks throughout the city,” it was the “act of going inside” that allowed the artist to do the same personally, blending “my inner emotional space and concepts with the city and my community,” she adds. “In these spaces, I had to explain my ideas and ask for permission to document these businesses (I take photos on my phone to use as reference material in the studio).” In turn, “the comfortable anonymity I had on the street as a passerby taking a quick photograph was gone.”

Still continuing to work in gouache and on paper in these new works, it’s an approach the artist describes as loving for “the flatness of it, the vibrancy of colour, the opaqueness and the quickness with which it dries,” she says. Working with it ever since art school – where she made the decision to “work hard at learning one medium really well” – you can tell that although Caitlyn is still developing her point of view, her technique is flawless.

GalleryCaitlyn Murphy:


Wall to Wall from Five Dresses (Copyright © Caitlyn Murphy)


Notions from Five Dresses (Copyright © Caitlyn Murphy)


From her sister from Five Dresses (Copyright © Caitlyn Murphy)


Five Dresses from Five Dresses (Copyright © Caitlyn Murphy)


Assembly from Five Dresses (Copyright © Caitlyn Murphy)


Compartments from Five Dresses (Copyright © Caitlyn Murphy)


Closeup from Five Dresses (Copyright © Caitlyn Murphy)


Backroom from Five Dresses (Copyright © Caitlyn Murphy)


Waiting from Five Dresses (Copyright © Caitlyn Murphy)

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Caitlyn Murphy: Paperwork from Five Dresses (Copyright © Caitlyn Murphy)

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy (she/her) is the senior editor at Insights, a research-driven department with It's Nice That. Get in contact with her for potential Insights collaborations or to discuss Insights' fortnightly column, POV. Lucy has been a part of the team at It's Nice That since 2016, first joining as a staff writer after graduating from Chelsea College of Art with a degree in Graphic Design Communication.

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