Chain Gang, 1985-1986

Chain Gang is a distinctive “oil on four canvases.” It complicates the notion of the single canvas with the spread of its bat-like wings and ballooning lungs. In many of her works, including this one, Murray challenged the rectangular convention of the canvas with new edges, shapes, and lines. Chain Gang takes its title from the 1960 Sam Cooke song. The cartoonish undulation of Chain Gang—Murray grew up drawing cartoons and hoping to be an illustrator—matches the up-tempo melody of Cooke’s song. The title of the piece, however, references imprisonment and forced labor, and the tar-colored organic forms convey the seriousness and darkness of Murray’s subject.