Idris Murphy: BackBlocks

Curated by Terence Maloon, this survey exhibition examines the work of Idris Murphy whose paintings are poetic responses to landscape that shimmer and glow.

This survey catches a great Australian painter at the height of his powers. Born in 1952, Idris Murphy developed deep roots in the history of painting as well as a profound feeling for the natural environment. Murphy’s idiom transcends “either/or” — it is indistinguishably landscape painting and painterly abstraction all at once. Arising from a sort of improvisatory incantation, the most vivid metaphors of land, space, light, mood and feeling seem to coalesce spontaneously and unbidden.

This happens even when Murphy’s pictorial means strike us as most improbable and outlandish: recent paintings make abundant use of metallic pigments and wildly abstruse colour combinations. Despite their bizarrerie and casual-looking primitivism, each painting resolves brilliantly into its surface and shape, and exudes a rare poetry of “place”.

Although his idiom is largely abstract, Murphy’s work might be seen as a form of Romantic landscape paintings. Like the Romantics, looking at the natural world also becomes a looking within the self, or the search for a relationship with the Creator of both self and world. One could adopt a more formal, secular perspective, but the brooding nature of his imagery suggests a deeper source of motivation – John McDonald


Artwork: IDRIS MURPHY  Reflections and Shadows, Fowlers Gap 2012 acrylic on aluminium  190 x 198cm


Idris Murphy graduated from National Art School with a diploma in Painting in 1971. In 1982 he became a lecturer at the University of Wollongong, NSW, and was instrumental in establishing the printmaking department of the newly founded School of Creative Arts. Murphy completed a Doctor of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong in NSW and a Graduate Diploma (Education), SCAE, Sydney whilst he was a lecturer at the College of Fine Art at UNSW from 1988-2007. He became the National Art School’s Head of Drawing in 1997. His studio is located in Kurnell, Sydney.

Things are not what they look like, not even the people and creatures and forms most familiar to us. Looking deeply, humbly, reverently exposes the viewer to alliances, consequences, yearning … When you look long enough, the subject of your gaze seems, eventually, to respond. Or perhaps it’s you, the viewer, who is changed: something has stuck, something’s going on – Tim Winton


Exhibition details

Idris Murphy: BackBlocks on display Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 5pm from Saturday 18 February – Sunday 30 April 2023.



Proudly presented by

Drill Hall Gallery

Orange Regional Gallery


How to book your tickets

Exhibition is included in a valid S.H. Ervin Gallery entry ticket.

Book via Eventbrite, where possible, to guarantee a spot.


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Location Details

S.H. Ervin Gallery


National Trust S.H. Ervin Gallery, Watson Road, Millers Point (The Rocks)


Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 5pm, last entry 4pm.


Friday 7 April 2023
Sunday 9 April 2023
Tuesday 25 April 2023
Monday 1 - Friday 5 May 2023
Monday 24 - Friday 28 July 2023
Monday 4 - Friday 8 September 2023
Monday 23 - Friday 27 October 2023

(02) 9258 0173
Entry Fees:

$42.00 - Family
$15.00 – General
$12.00 – Seniors and Concessions*
Free – Children under 5
Selected exhibitions may incur special prices
(* Concession applies for full-time students, seniors, pensioners and children aged 5-15 years)
Booking fees apply.

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