Aileen Murphy: WET TALK

3 - 26 March 2022

Text written by Amelia Groom


Antonio Banderas says that he didn’t speak any English when he was cast in his first English-language role, so he learned his lines phonetically. I thought about this when I came across a news article about some wild parrots in Sydney who had picked up a few English phrases from some pet cockatoos who had escaped. The phrases reported in the article were “What’s happening?” and “Hello, darling!”. Like Banderas, the parrots had learned phonetically, with the words being passed on as sonic material untethered from semantic baggage.


There are nine paintings in Aileen Murphy’s exhibition WET TALK. They were mostly made during the lockdowns of 2021. One has a sapphire blue doggie, a very busy doggie, a doggie going places, accompanied by several wide-open mouths. Other paintings have other doggies. Doggie chatting on the phone. Doggie in lipstick and rouge, chatting on the phone! Doggie sitting back, one leg extended, mouth wide open, big wet tongues all around. There’s a languid giddiness throughout these paintings; lots of chat, giggles, gossip, licks. Faces wander away from themselves, bodies are unbounded. It’s all pretty sexy. Tits are out, nipples are on the run. Splatters of paint, dribbles and drips, coiled telephone cord squeezed straight out of the paint tube. Yellows of fluorescence, turmeric, butter. Lavender and fuchsia with emerald green, uncontained glee. 


It’s a lot. Not a lot as in many different things have been accumulated. A lot as in things on their own are so bursting full that they can’t hold themselves together, can’t remain on their own. A lot of legs, legs everywhere, stretching out, multiplying, running ahead of their bodies. A lot of paint, paint running away from what it paints, spilling out of the depiction, seeping away from the form, wanting to leave the canvas. A lot of mouths, always. Open grinning mouths and huge tongues that travel around on their own and might also be something else. Like what if we could have tongues for legs, or legs stretching out from the mouth, offering to take it for a walk. 


Mouths, they’re so weird! Warm wet cavities where food goes in and words come out. Openings through which bodies ingest food, burp, drool, taste, chew, swallow, sing, sigh, sip, and spew forth. Erogenous (‘eros generating’) zones, for kissing, sucking, moaning. They’re pink and super soft, but then they’re also full of calcium-dense teeth, the only part of the skeletal system that isn’t on the inside of the flesh.

It was an icy cold winter morning in Berlin when I went to Aileen’s studio to see these nine paintings. Aileen had brought me two flavored croissants. She explained that at first, she had bought just one (almond), but soon after she had worried that I’m vegan (I’m not), and so she went to another shop and bought a back-up vegan croissant (chocolate). I ate both, and as I looked at the pictures with a mouth full of sticky flakey double-flavoured sweetness, it felt appropriate. One can taste a real sugary sweetness in these paintings. It’s yummy, but it’s a dirty, untidy kind of sweetness. Peach cream stains. Unfinished raspberry swirls. Pink icing, licked off big tits. Cheesecake bursting out of the frame. Also in the paintings, a messy and frenetic sweetness of time, the way everything speeds up in the full sticky buzz of a sugar high.

Among the frenetic bursts, though, there is also breath and lush, languorous extension. The fullness in these paintings is given room to stretch out, take a seat, take time, recline, curve around the edge of the canvas in search of some more
space, or burrow in underneath the pockets of privacy that are offered by the paint when it acts as a cover.

I have a childhood memory of eating sweets, a whole pile of sweets, and there’s a voice of authority (maybe I’m in a waiting room at the doctor’s?) warning me that the sugar will put holes in my teeth. In my child mind I immediately sense that the sugar is a substance with an agenda. It wants more space. It enjoys the dissolution of boundaries. The mouth is already a hole into which sweet things can go, but the sugar is not satisfied with that, it has to open up more holes, tiny little mouths in the teeth, more holes meaning more space for sugar to go in and make more holes.