Nancy Murphy Spicer’s work is centered in painting and drawing and its relationship to social, architectural and geographic space. It takes the form of works on paper, paintings, installations, and performance. Murphy Spicer has exhibited her work at galleries and museums in the US and in Europe. Her work has been reviewed and highlighted in Sculpture Magazine, Art New England, Der Tagesspiegel Berlin, and Art Papers. The Boston Globe has twice named her exhibitions among the top ten shows in Boston.

She has studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and recently completed a mid-career MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Her paintings have been selected to be included in New American Paintings MFA Annual Vol 141. Her essay on the work of Cy Twombly is included in the book accompanying the Art Institute of Chicago exhibition entitled Material Meanings: Selections from the Constance R. Caplan Collection. Her work is held in private collections in the US, Germany, and Japan.

Murphy Spicer has taught at The University of the West of England and is currently adjunct faculty at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Virginia Commonwealth University.


Nancy Murphy Spicer

Live and works in Charlottesville, VA



2018      MFA, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

1991       Diploma Program, School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston, MA

1979      BFA, St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN


Solo Exhibitions

2020    Some of the 100 Things, Page Bond Gallery, Richmond, VA

2019      The New Brag Paintings, St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN

2017      Hiding in Plain Sight, Page Bond Gallery, Richmond, VA

2016      finding shapes as a way of orienting oneself, Page Bond Gallery, Richmond, VA

2015      more than momentary: ENJOY, RaumX London, London, UK

2015      Disrupted Drawings, Carroll and Sons, Boston, MA

2012      The Shapes in this Place, 18m Galerie, Berlin, Germany

2012      Biking in Berlin, Carroll and Sons, Boston, MA

2011       re:location, RoosArts, New York, NY

2011       Hanging Drawing Shapes, University of Maine Museum of Art, Bangor, ME

2007    Provisional, Bernard Toale Gallery, Boston, MA

2007    Poured Tape Drawings, Boston Drawing Project, Bernard Toale Gallery, Boston, MA

2006    Cardboard Actions, Bernard Toale Gallery, Boston, MA


Selected Group Exhibitions

2018      Low-Residency MFA Thesis Exhibition, Sullivan Galleries, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

2017      Making Out, Site Gallery, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

2017      Summer Group Exhibition, Page Bond Gallery, Richmond, VA

2016      SHOP, Studio Voltaire Open Studios, London, UK

2015      Feelers: 24th Boston Drawing Show, Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, Boston, MA

2015      The Physicality of Color, University of New Hampshire Museum of Art, Durham, NH

2012      Locating Place: 9 Propositions from the Boston Drawing Project, Salve Regina University, Newport, RI

2012      Thinking Through Drawing, Wimbledon College of Art, London, UK

2012      Bristol Diving School Curatorial Exercise #1, Spike Island Test Space, Bristol, UK

2011       Ubersong, Chapter, Cardiff, Wales

2010     Mark Paper Scissors, RoosArts, Rosendale, NY

2010     Traces and Places, 808 Gallery, Boston University, Boston, MA

2010     Power to the People fundraiser, Feature, Inc.,  New York, NY

2009    The Act of Drawing, VIVID, Birmingham, UK

2008    Anonymous Drawings #9, Kunstraum Kreuzberg / Bethanien, Berlin, Germany

2008    Many Kinds of Nothing: Buddhist Spirit in Contemporary Art, Montserrat College of Art, Beverly, MA

2007    20th Boston Drawing Show, Mills Galley, Boston Center for the Arts, Boston, MA

2004    Seamless, Memphis College of Art, Memphis, TN

2004    Tufts First Annual, Tufts University, Medford, MA

2004    New England/New Talent, Fitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg, MA

2004    18th Boston Drawing Show, Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, Boston, MA

2003    Chris Nau and Nancy Murphy Spicer: Flat Not Flat, Atlanta College of Art Gallery, Atlanta, GA

2002    Chris Nau and Nancy Murphy Spicer, Green Street Gallery, Jamaica Plain, MA

2001-2002  Boston Drawing Project, Bernard Toale Gallery, Boston, MA


Awards and Residencies

2020    Anonymous Was A Woman Covid-19 Relief Grant

2020    Virginia Commonwealth University, Adjunct Faculty Research Grant

2019      New American Paintings MFA Annual

2018      Virginia Commonwealth University, Adjunct Faculty Research Grant

2016-2018  School of the Art Institute of Chicago Dean’s Scholarship

2017     American Association of University Women (AAUW), Career Development Award

2017     Ox-Bow Artists Residency, Merit Scholarship, Saugatuck, MI

2012     Spike Associates, dOCUMENTA13 Travel Bursary, Kassel, Germany

2011      Spike Associates, Venice Biennale Travel Bursary, Venice, Italy

2010     Spike Associates, Berlin Residency, Berlin, Germany

2009    Spike Associates, Curatorial Grant, For Real, Spike Island

2008    Boston Globe, Ten Best Shows of 2008 for ‘Many Kinds of Nothing’ exhibition

2008    Nomination for Institute of Contemporary Art Boston Foster Prize

2004    International Art Critics Association, Second Place, Best Show in an Alternative Space

2002    Boston Globe, Ten Best Shows of 2002, Green Street Gallery exhibition


Selected Publications

2020      Essay on Cy Twombly’s On Returning from Tonnicoda, Material Meanings: Selections from the Constance Caplan Collection, Art Institute of Chicago

2018      The New Brag: Erasure and Co-Constitution of Self, MFA Thesis, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

2018      WHAT WAS FOUND: The Archive Project, 104-page artists book, Joan Flasch Artists Book Collection at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Chronical of 20 years of practice


Related Professional Experience

Present-2018  Virginia Commonwealth University, Art Foundations Program, Adjunct Faculty, Drawing Studio for first-year students, Richmond, VA

Summer 2020 School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Adjunct Faculty, Adult Continuing Education

2017      School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Low-Residency MFA Program, Visiting Lecturer for Professional Practices course for first year MFA students

2017      Site Gallery, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Making Out, Chicago, IL, group exhibition co-curated with five graduate school colleagues including a collaborative, participatory installation and a program of readings, panel discussions, and performances

2016-2015   faethem, Charlottesville, VA, curated interdisciplinary salon bringing together artists, writers and other creatives for events and discussions

2015      more than momentary: ENJOY, a participatory, curatorial project engaging 24 international participants culminating in an exhibitions at RaumX London and an artist’s book

2015      Camberwell College of Art/University of the Arts London, Visiting Artist, London, UK

2013      University of the West of England, Architecture Department, Visiting Lecturer, Bristol, UK

2012-2010  University of the West of England, Drawing & Applied Arts Department, Associate Lecturer, Bristol, UK

2009    Spike Island Open Studios, For Real, Bristol, UK, curated exhibition of 5 UK and 5 US artists highlighting drawings with a shift from flatness to dimensionality

2008    School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Visiting Artist, Boston, MA

2008    Art Institute of Boston, MFA Program Mentor, Boston, MA



2015      Like the nerd crowned prom queen, Murphy Spicer’s works glory in the awkwardness of it all, Cate McQuaid, The Boston Globe

2015      Murphy Spicer makes work that is visually alluring, cerebral, all while being provocatively casual, Shana Dumont Garr, New American Painting blog

2015      New American Paintings Blog, July 2015, Nancy Murphy Spicer’s Disrupted Drawings, Shanna Dumont Garr

2015      Boston Globe, Boston, MA, July 28, 2015, Depictions and Disruptions, Cate McQuaid

2015      Art New England, March/April 2015, The Physicality of Color, Christopher Volpe

2014      Boston Globe, Boston, MA, April 17, 2014, Inspired by Details of a Place, Cate McQuaid

2012      Boston Globe, Boston, MA, August 8, 2012, Reimagining an urban landscape, Cate McQuaid

2012      Zitty Berlin, Der Tagesspiegel, July 27, 2012, Tagestipps (Critic’s Tips)

2012      Biking in Berlin catalog, June 2012, essay by Karin Lelonek

2012      Boston Globe Magazine, June 17, 2012, 10 contemporary works to see now

2009    The Acts of Drawing catalog, VIVID, Birmingham, UK

2008    Boston Globe, December 24, 2008, Top Ten Shows of 2008, Cate McQuaid

2008    Boston Globe, October 25, 2008, ‘Minimalist works help provoke a meditative state,’ Cate McQuaid

2008    Many Kinds of Nothing Catalog, Montserrat College of Art Gallery, October 2008

2007, December 23, 2007, Drawing the Line at Mills Gallery, David Avruch

2007    Boston Globe, December 20, 2007, Drawing show works around the edges, Cate McQuaid

2005    Art Papers, January/February 2005, Review of ‘Seamless,’ David Hall

2004    Memphis Commercial Appeal, October 15, 2004, ‘Seamless’ a model of beauty, Frederick Koeppel

2004    Seamless brochure, Memphis College of Art,  2004, essay by Cynthia Thompson

2004    Boston Phoenix, March 5, 2004, Goodies at the DeCordova and the Fitchburg, C. Millis

2004    New England/New Talent catalog, Fitchburg Art Museum, February 2004

2004    Boston Globe, February 1, 2004, At ‘The Drawing Show,’ works literally leap off the page, Cate McQuaid

2004    Somewhere indefinable between painting, sculpture and drawing resides Nancy Murphy Spicer’s Drawing Objects, Shawn Hill, South End News

2003    Art New England, November/December 2003, Regional Reviews, Lauren O’Neal

2003    Art Papers, November/December 2003, Reviews, Robin Bernat

2003    Sculpture Magazine, September/October 2003, Review, Marty Carlock

2003    Art New England, June/July 2003, Regional Reviews, Shawn Hill

2003    Flat Not Flat brochure, Atlanta College of Art, May 2003, essay by Lisa Fischman

2002    Boston Globe, December 29, 2002, Best of 2002, Cate McQuaid

2002    Boston Globe, August 23, 2002, Some Edgy Artists Play with Space, Cate McQuaid

Some of the 100 Things

With the 100 Things series, the act of painting becomes a meditation on single objects, depicting them with fidelity to a visual reality and also with a concern for the materiality of the paint. The objects are chosen sequentially without a thought to an overall cohesive body. Thus, as a collection, they form a kind of quirky, personal diary of life over the past year, at times referencing seasons, family history and events, and significant places.

This project has become all the more poignant during this time of the pandemic as I quarantine, circumstances further focusing my attention on the small world within view at home.


Biking in Berlin

Catalog Essay by Karin Lelonek

American artist Nancy Murphy Spicer arrives in a springtime Berlin in 2010 from her adopted home country of England. She brings the usual items in her suitcase that everyone carries when visiting a new city for the first time: a city map and a city guide. Then she makes the important decision to rent a bicycle, the best of all methods to get to know a city, especially Berlin.

Her biking forays around the city are initially chosen in relation to art studios, galleries, artist-run spaces and museums. Rarely, however, does she ride to her destination directly. She takes detours with spontaneous turns here and there. She feels her way through the city, exploring the rhythms of the street, a flâneur on bike. Thanks in part to Berlin’s notably bicycle-friendly design, she moves about freely, fully aware that a brief two decades ago the Berlin Wall required Berliners to take very different routes. Murphy Spicer traverses the former borders of zones and sectors effortlessly, unselfconsciously cycling across the unified Berlin. She records her cycling routes on her city map, to orientate herself and to remember. The standard tourist map becomes her geospatial diary. Curious forms emerge, giving rise to the shapes in this place, the works that now comprise the Biking in Berlin series.

Large and small shapes collide, overlap, float apart, connect to one another. Some are color and some are the negative space left after shapes have been cut away. Viewed from a distance the works give an appearance of being very spacious and the colored areas seem to be smooth. Islands float on an airy base as if it were possible to move them and combine them into new constellations. Up close, the shapes have a very different feel, a strong physical presence from the accretion of paint. You can imagine brushing your finger across the surface and tracing the shapes in relief, the flow of the brushstrokes tangible. And what seems close to perfection from a distance now reveals small irregularities that have not been corrected nor camouflaged by the artist.  Each shape preserves and amplifies its own individuality and imperfection, and it is this imperfection that invites the viewer to explore more closely, to have an intimate dialogue with the shapes just as the artist herself has done.

Murphy Spicer disassembled her printed city guide and used the pages themselves to create these works. The outline of her biking paths became the most prominent shapes. Smaller shapes began as images in the guidebook — architectural details, close-ups of streets, monuments. She cut out these small elements, painted them and, in some cases, reinserted them into the page, often intersecting or floating closely in relation to the larger shape. Clues to the origin of these smaller shapes are painted over, the literal reference masked by layer upon layer of paint. Only the shape remains. And yet, all elements of this dislodged and collaged Berlin are connected to the city. Color has been a way into this work, according to Murphy Spicer.  Color serves as a means of animating shape, for perceiving and observing shapes in interaction. This multilayered dialogue of color and shape is created in the spirit of the peripatetic cyclist, deliberately serendipitous, entering new territory with open eyes and anticipation.

Berlin is a fitting subject for this work. There is an enormous diversity of shapes that comprise the city, the intended or unintended result of art, design, architecture and changing borders. Murphy Spicer’s work reveals her keen awareness of this. The physiognomy and layout of Berlin has changed in its recent past like no other major European city. The destruction during World War II, the separation into sectors by the Allies, the building of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Wall and the reunification of the city — all of these events cut, dismembered, and rejoined the city over and over again, changing its texture dramatically. The continuous process of overwriting, deleting and rewriting is ongoing. This city has constantly re-formed itself, storing its past in the evolving layers of space that is Berlin today. With the Biking in Berlin series, Murphy Spicer has added her own layers, her traces of personally experienced space, to the stratification of Berlin. This reference to the lived experience within the larger timescales of history makes the series so intriguing, the evanescent shapes inviting reflection on the shapes of one’s own personal trajectories in this place.

The eclectic, vibrant cosmopolitan capital that we take as unbounded Berlin today is still imprinted in collective memory and the spatial memory of the city with what used to be East and West. Today we move about the city with ease. In the midst of daily routines, rarely do we recall that such fluidity was impossible for most of the second half of the twentieth century. The immediate sense of freedom within the space of the city that cycling brings expands and deepens as we become more conscious of the historical forces that have shaped this place. Perceptively, this makes Berlin even more ample. The small works reflect the multi-faceted metropolis: various shapes, layers and surfaces, its imperfections, its rough edges, its constantly dislodged and collaged spaces. Within the economical containers of these small works lies the universe of this place steeped in histories, the intimate trajectories that define our everyday lives and the larger contours of history that comprise Berlin.

Adaptation from Karin Lelonek’s German text

Translation by Susanne Christine Nestor

Karin Lelonek is an art historian who lives in Berlin and works as an independent curator and author with a focus on photography and architecture of the 20th century. She has organized exhibitions at many German institutions including Kunsthalle Bremen, Kunstmuseum Ahlen (photographer Lothar Wolleh), Akademie der Künste Berlin (architect Hans Poelzig), and Berlinische Galerie (Friedrich Seidenstücker) and Akademie der Künste Berlin (Poste Restante).