Thursday, November 12, 2020

Let the Painting Build Itself: An Interview with Brooklyn Based Painter David Pollack


David Pollack with paintings from his Harbor series, in his studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Photo: Denise Sfraga

Let the Painting Build Itself: An Interview with David Pollack

by Paul Behnke

Paul Behnke: Well, let's start at the beginning. Would you talk a little about your background? What set you on the path your work is on? You have gone through several overlapping stages since I've been acquainted with your work.

David Pollack: Growing up my dad was a landscape architect but I think he wanted to be a painter too. He was an amazing draftsman and could draw anything. So, that's where my tree imagery comes from. He used to draw trees all the time and they used to hang in my house.

And he actually received a Rome Prize where you go to Rome for a year and they give you a studio set up.

PB: That's the prize Philip Guston was awarded. Right?

DP: That's what I was about to say. Guston was there when my dad was there.
So I was around it as a kid and I tried to draw like him. I would draw on anything; TV Guides- I would just doodle all over.

Then after high school, I wasn't very academic but I was always really good at art so I started thinking about going to art school. And in between my junior and senior years, I went to the Vermont Studio Center.

PB: And when you got into art school: was that in New York or Boston?

DP: That was in Boston, north of Boston. They had some really great teachers there and it was actually started by a bunch of Hofmann students. So we were learning all about plastic space and they had us draw from the figure so it was kind of a classical training. A lot of color theory!

PB: And then you went to Vermont?

DP: Yeah, I went to Vermont, and that kind of solidified me wanting to be a painter. Came back to my senior year then worked at the Vermont Studio Center for about a year after that. Right out of college and then came down to New York.

PB: Had you always thought of New York as a place you wanted to go to make art? What led you tthere?

DP: Well, that's where the painters that I was interested in, and in learning from, were living. So, that's why I came here. It was also that I was at an age where I was like, "If you don't do it now you might never do it." 

PB: How old were you then?

DP: I'm going to say around 24 or 25.

PB: What was your work like when you got out of school?

DP: In school I worked my way through the classical figure thing to abstract expressionism. You know, I was painting these huge paintings. It was the late 80s and everybody was painting large- a Neo Expressionist kind of thing.

I'll tell you who got me off of that - do you know the painter Andrew Forge? Well, I met his wife, Ruth Miller who also taught at the Studio School and had been friends with Resnick and all of the later abstract expressionists - she was a little younger.

Anyway, Andrew ran the program at Yale for a little while and he was doing these dot paintings - kind of like big landscapes. Not that you would read them as landscapes visually, but they had that feel - the way you walk through them.

That way of painting really hit me. He did a crit with me and one of the first things he said was, "How do you start a painting?" It was just a simple question but it made me think, and knowing how he painted at the time - it was like. "Yeah. Slow down."

And that really started the paintings that you know. I've stayed on that from my 20s until now.

PB: So you met Forge in Vermont? 

DP: Yeah, I met him in Vermont and Ruth brought him over to my studio. Then about a year later he came back and did another critique with me. In between those visits, I had seen a lot of his paintings and fell in love with the way he worked.

Between Forge and John Walker, who I also worked with in Vermont, and Bernie Chaet who was another Yale guy. Chaet was really into process and materials. He did these great little landscape paintings. And Marjorie Portnow - do you know her work - small landscapes. kind of Rakstraw Downesish?

When I first came to New York I subleased her place for almost a year. We had become friends in Vermont and she was going off somewhere so she gave me a really good deal on rent. The place was on Vestry Street in Tribeca across the street from Marisol so I got to meet her - she was great. Robert Willson lived on the floor below me. It was this great old artist building. John Chamberlain was there before I arrived. There was a rumor his son had almost burnt down the building at one point. It was just this old school artists' building, So, I really felt part of the art world when I came here.

PB: It was great that you had a few connections and friends through Vermont that helped ease you into the New York scene.

DP: Oh, very much so. Yeah.  

David Pollack, Three Last Days of March / Spring's Whisper, 2014, oil on panel, 15 x 14 in.

PB: When I first became aware of your work you were doing the pointilist paintings (for lack of a better description).

DP: Yeah, that's the work that started with Andrew.

PB: But you were also doing some figurative work - portraits?

DP: Yeah. I did a few self portraits then started a group of portraits of my friend, Hiro. I think I did about ten of them. It was a fun series; getting back into the figure. Stuff like that is always great because it reminds you how to see.

I learned that

painting was about everything.

A lot of times when I'm working on a painting I get studk. I start to feellike they aren't real - like I'm trying to paint my own paintings and it's not something that's just coming out. That's when I'll go and draw or make some watercolors. 

That's how the Harbor Series started but I always seem to come back to abstraction. I've always found drawing through color - finding how color draws the object. That's how I learned; the old Hans Hofmann way of finding all of the planes. You know? I was always a better draftsman when stuff was coming out of my head than from an actual, physical subject.

If I'm looking at something I see too much. I see the subject, but I also see what's next to it, what's next to that - what's on top of it. I learned that painting was about everything. That's the way it is with the pointilist work. You can't just lay down a ground and place a dot on it. Every dot of color has to be as important as the next. Every part of the painting has to be thought out.

PB: It all relates.

DP: Relates, yeah but as far as process goes it's just not enough to put one dot here and another there. Every morsel has to be considered, figured out or touched. Where with a drawing I can put a tree in the middle of the paper with no thought to what's around it.

PB: When you concentrate on the single object from your head - is that a more intense way of depicting what you are thinking? A more focused expression?

DP: When I started this I was thinking a lot about minimalism in a maxium way - or post minimalism. It's a way of taking me out of it. Who am I to decide what the painting is supposed to look like as opposed to letting the painting build itself?

And I always thought the best way to build it was piece by piece by piece. Then I realized that if I were just to put dots of color over dots of color the painting would start to build itself.

So blue dots, red dots, and yellow dots - then do that again and again until the painting tells you to put down green dots. It starts to think on its own. It's like raising a kid. You have to feed it until it learns to feed itself. Then it says I want green. Then it starts to really get smart - it becomesa don't touch me here, touch me there kind of a thing.

So when I think about how I do build a painting - that's my relationship to it and that's how I've found it over the years. Like you are raising the painting to go off on its own in the world - to have its own consciousness.

PB: The most interesting painters I know have stumbled onto their own, personal way of building a painting.

DP: I love that I start every painting the same way but they all come out different and end up with their own personalities. Even the Harbor ones - I start them at the bottom with the same color and they all grow seperately.

PB: To switch gears a little bit - I wonder how important nature and poetry are to the way you conceive of the work.

I think of poetry as a zeroing in on an experience that would be relateable to the reader - presenting that experience in a quickened, more intensified way. That's the way I read your work.

DP: That's a reason that I chose to work with the dots. It's a simplification. There is nothing more simple than a dot of color on a surface. But if you keep repeating that simple act of placing dot by dot the painting takes over and you don't have to worry about narrative but the experience is there.

PB: So do you see the finished dot works as tied to, or somehow depicting, nature or is it just paint on a surface?

...the best way 

to see nature

is by being as quiet as you can.

DP: That's the thing! It depends on when you ask me. It's hard to say because it's everything at once. But it's also about nothing because the only decisions that I want to make, until I'm at least three quarters through the painting, are color choices. That simplifies things. Like if you read Ad Reinhardt or Agnes Martin it's like this kind of Buddhist thing - you know - a painting is just a painting the way a dog is just a dog. So the painting grows on its own and if you leave out narrative and find the image you get to  - Wow, I was able to make a painting and all I did was keep putting dots on top of dots! And towards the end my actions are more specific as to where they land and the painting becomes a little more precious. Then the painting says, 'You can go away now.'

And back to poetry - the great thing about it is that it's just a breath - and a few perfect words come out. And that's like good painting. It's like walking inside of nature and the best way to see nature is by being as quiet as you can.

David Pollack, Summer Rainstorm (Ascend), 2020, watercolor on paper, 11 x 15 in.

PB: That's a beautiful way to think about it. That idea brings me to the recent watercolors - the rainstorms, stacks of firewood and burning trees.

Based on what you said earlier, am I right in assuming that these images come from your imagination rather than observation?

DP: Yes. They are from my imagination. I think they're colser to illustrations of ideas.

PB: But they still have that poetic quality; that sense of metaphor and that intensity of expression that leaves things very much open ended.

DP: They're driven more by emotion and finding image through metaphor. I just know that they are more like thought. I have an idea of what I want to find in it and I'm not always successful but something else will come out that I am happy with.

The watercolors are always trying to react to and deal with what's going on in the world around us. Maybe they are like the Jungian finding of the collective unconscious image.

PB: Maybe the term metaphor is inadequate but I think the idea of transcendence can be applied. The images transcend what they are and are open ended enough to facilitate many connections.

DP: I think a lot about what Farrell Brickhouse is doing. His stuff really touches me and I've been going up to visit him a lot to see what he's doing in the studio. There's something about the way he finds figures doing something - I always saw his figures as very Jungian. The images could be taken out of anywhere from anytime - like a timeless dream.

I think it's a Jewish thing -

finding beauty in tragedy.

PB: In relation to your work I keep thinking of the Southern artist, Walter Anderson. Only in that when he depicted the flora and fauna of Horn Island (off the coast of Mississippi) it was as if he were showing us their spirits or life energy. And I find that same cosmic autopsy of the subject in your work - it's the energy or the realness of the thing that you give us. Is this an element you think about?

DP: I don't know about the watercolors because they are so new. But with the wood stacks, the trees and stone walls - well, the wood stacks had a lot to do with death - almost like pyres.

PB: I think of Picasso's The Charnel House when I look at your wood stacks.

DP: I used to see skulls in the patterns of the stone walls. And the trees, of course, always became figures. These images are layered in the watercolors too. I'm just not as sure of what they are all about yet. I'm still finding stuff when I look at them - new things all the time.

PB: Is writing about your work important to your process? Do you use it to clarify ideas?

DP: No. Zero. I think about the work but don't write it down so much.

PB: Professors always told me writing is helpful, but I rarely do it.

DP: I mean do writers paint their ideas? No! It's not like they tell writers, 'That part's okay but paint three paintings about your idea.' No. Or, 'draw me pictures of what's going on in chapter 12.' No, this is our language. This is how we write.

PB: I think so too.

When did the submerged images begin to appear in your work? One of the first timesI became aware of them was in the sobering, black and white ink drawings of trees that you made in response to the shootings, at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg in 2018, in which eleven people were murdered and seven were wounded.

In the drawings you placed the Star of David within the form of each tree. And it sounds like a contradiction but those drawings were such brutal and elegant reactions to that tragedy.

David Pollack, Seven Trees, 2018, ink on paper, 14 x 11 in.

DP: I think the embeded imagery had a lot to do with the making art during Trump thing. It's been so crazy with things like the Tree of Life shooting happening. There's a social part of me that really wants to shout about this stuff. But, there's also something in me that, as a painter, I kind of stay quiet - it's there if you want to find it in the work but I'm still making a piece of art.

Even the new watercolors with their themes of ascension and death are saying: Yes. This shit's going on but if you got COVID or some other tragedy happened - they are saying - this is how you would be taken care of. It's going to be okay. It's helping someone pass on, as well as just commenting on the horrible act. With the ink drawings in response to the attack I was conscious of the trees being victims but still being beautiful at the same time.

And in the new watercolors these people are passing on and there is a beauty in the storms. The idea is that wherever you're going, it will be okay. I think it's a Jewish thing - finding beauty in tragedy.

I think it's important to make a piece of art that can stand as a quiet thing and be meditated over. Then if you want to see something else you'll find it. It gets interesting when the viewer realizes, "Oh, and he meant it to be there." 

David Pollack's recent online exhibition, New on Paper Since COVID-19, was on view from October 11 - November 10, 2020 at Monklike Habits | online project space.

David Pollack grew up in New England and has spent the last 25 years in New York City. He currently works from studios in Red Hook, Brooklyn and Upstate, NY. Pollack has shown work in numerous group exhibitions in and around New York City in venues that include SFA Projects, Life on Mars, and David and Schweitzer Contemporary. He held his first one-person show in Brooklyn, NY at Stout Projects in 2016.

Paul Behnke was born in Memphis, TN and recieved a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting with a minor in Art History from the Memphis College of Art. Behnke's paintings have been exhibited widely in the Unided States and internationally. His work has been reviewed in Hyperallergic Weekend, The New Criterion, and the New Republic. Behnke's writings have appeared online at AbCrit: A Forum for Debate on Abstract Art, at The Painters' Table and in print in Gamut a Southern regional arts magazine, Number Magazine, and he was the co-editor of Shad Runn an art-zine self published in Memphis,Tn. Behnke has edited Structure and Imagery: A Contemporary Art Blog since 2011 and was the co-director of Stout Projects, an exhibition space in Bushwick, Brooklyn from 2015 - 2017. Currently, he is the co-curator of Monklike Habits | online project space. Behnke is currently based in Taos, NM.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

New in the Studio

Loverman (the Guardian), 2020, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 18 in.

New in the studio: Small works concentrating on formal elements, dissolution of form, and broken color.

Monument to Clairvoyance, 2020, acrylic on panel, 16 x 12 in.

Study for an Imaginary Monument, 2020, acrylic on panel, 16 x 12 in.

Dark Monument, 2020, acrylic on panel, 16 x 12 in.

Monument to People Who Did Right, 2020, acrylic on panel, 16 x 12 in.

*All works © Paul Behnke 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Amy Sillman: Twice Removed At Gladstone Gallery


Amy Sillman: Twice Removed

Through November 14, 2020

Gladstone Gallery
515 W 24th Street
New Tork, NY

From the Press Release:

Dear Reader,

      The time we’re living in is crazy, horrible, almost medieval with disease, increasing police brutality and militarization, diminishment of democratic rights, and the upcoming ledge of a terrifying election. I was supposed to have a show of drawings and paintings last May at Gladstone and titled it “Twice Removed”: "twice" to propose the idea of a multiplied subjectivity, being of two minds, forked paths, and having allegiances to both subject and object, thinking and feeling, abstraction and figuration, form and content, dialectics and contradictions; "removed" because my paintings are built through negation, a kind of violent erasure, scraping down, undoing, getting rid of. But twice removed was also a pun on the family relation, being adjacent to something older. I’m a knight’s move away from the old tradition of gestural painting, but I’m really not trying to kill the father: I love gestural painting like it was my grandma, even though I’m skeptical, pessimistic, and sometimes critical of what she stands for. (My mom always said I was too negative.) So I was also thinking about painting as an unrolling of time—both my own genealogy and the way I wanted to unfurl paintings and drawings in long horizontal sequences around the room. I wanted the work to be like scraps and fragments, a bunch of spare parts, puzzling things dug up archeologically, arranged around the rooms of the gallery in a frieze of tangled patches. I was already thinking bleak thoughts about America, and the work looked like it: melancholy, mostly only black and white, ambiguous, often either too raw or over-cooked, ambiguous. I was trying to make a new language out of a bunch of spare parts.

      That show was postponed due to Covid19 and will now open in late September. But the new show is an even more shaggy, complicated affair, containing all of the above plus all the new work from this agonizing spring and summer shuffled in. For much of this time, I didn’t have a painting studio, so I just drew flowers, the opulent irises, daylilies, and sunflowers that were springing up around me from bushes and trees and from the earth. As Lorraine Hansberry asked (in her 1962 play), “what use are flowers?” I was obsessed with their colors and shapes, the simple joy of observing them, and how they exude libido, healing, and rebirth, even though while I was drawing them I was wondering if we might all die. Were they funerary or optimistic? During this spring, painting itself was overshadowed by the question of whether painting-life could continue to exist at all. But after months of the flowers, they started to morph into abstractions. The flower stems looked like the legs of figures stalking around, their heads bent over in a kind of looped narrative with no particular story except growth and then withering. The world’s ground was shifting, so I started concentrating on the fields behind the figures— patterns, plaids, and confusing figure-to-grounds, a purposefully destabilized signal-to-noise ratio. And eventually, it was the process of improvisation itself that seemed the most timely and urgent. I was thinking about a quote by Fred Moten, “improvisation is making nothing out of something.” In this sense “nothing” is a good thing, it means you’re in a hole, on the brink of change, and you have to listen, to pay attention. Improvising is a process that comes from within and that proposes a without, a nowhere that is everywhere. The hard questions continue (how to keep making paintings at all, if the world can possibly be rebuilt, and how) but I hope there's an alchemy in there, a use, in keeping on working with the motion between the known and an abstract (but felt) unknown.


All images © Gladstone Gallery

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Patrick Graham: Interitus at Hillsboro Fine Art

Self Portrait, 2020, oil on canvas, 160 x 160 cm.

Patrick Graham: Interitus

On view through Nov 7, 2020

Hillsboro Fine Art
49 Parnell Square West
Dublin, Ireland

Installation view, Hillsboro Fine Art, Dublin.

Installation view, Hillsboro Fine Art, Dublin.

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years - The Silence Becomes the Painting

Friday, October 16, 2020

Jullian Schnabel at PACE


Installation view, Julian Schnabel: The Sad Lament of the Brave, Let the Wind Speak and Other Paintings, Sep 18 – Oct 24, 2020, Pace Gallery, New York © Julian Schnabel

Julian Schnabel: The Sad Lament of the Brave, Let the Wind Speak and Other Paintings

Through October 24, 2020

510 W 25th Street
New York, NY


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Jeffrey Morabito: Open Studio


Jeffrey Morabito, My Name is Jack,
Part of the Lost Pet Series begun during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Jeffrey Morabito: Open Studio 

By Appointment Only

Fri, Sat and Sun, Oct. 16th - 18th, 2020

Please dm to RVSP.

A limited amount of people are allowed in at a time.

A mask must be worn.
Hand sanitizer provided.

David Pollack: New on Paper Since COVID-19 at Monklike Habits | online project space


David Pollack, Summer Rainstorm (Ascend) 2020, watercolor on paper, 11 x 15 in.

David Pollack: New on Paper Since COVID-19

October 11 - November 10, 2020

Monklike Habits | online project space


From the Press Release:

"The new work presented here is a response to, and an interpretation of, nature and the awesome sway it exerts on us. These modest and elegiac watercolors allude to a feeling of beautiful helplessness that we often experience in response to the seemingly arbitrary acts of nature, and by extension, to our times.

But the paintings also support an underlying humanity - a joining with (in death?), or perhaps a transcendence from, an irrational, subjective megacosm. This ingredient, more than anything, confirms the poetic sensitivity in the work."

Blurring Boundaries: The Women of American Abstract Artists, 1936 - Present at South Bend Museum of Art


Melissa Staiger, Connection 2 Ways, 2017, 24 x 12 in.

Rhia Hurt, Pretty in Peach, Reflecting Pool Series, 2018, acrylic and watercolor on paper, 14 x 11 in.

Lee Krasner

Blurring Boundaries: The Women of American Abstract Artists, 1936-Present


South Bend Museum of Art
120 South Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd.
South Bend, IN 46601

From the Press release:

October 17, 2020 – January 3, 2021
Warner Gallery

Opening Reception October 16, 2020,
Donor Reception 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Public Reception 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Artist Talk with Jamea Richmond-Edwards at 7:15 p.m.

The Robert C. Shields American Series is an annual event that shares, with our regional audience, the rich art history and culture of our nation. Represented in these exhibitions are many of the key artists and artistic movements responsible for creating an American art legacy. This will be the 13th year we have offered this series and it continues to gain momentum and respect in the community for the rich visual perspectives it offers on American art.

An awe-inspiring celebration of an intergenerational group of artists—one that is both comprehensive and long overdue—Blurring Boundaries: The Women of American Abstract Artists, 1936 – Present highlights the indelible ways in which the women of American Abstract Artists have, for more than eighty years, shifted and shaped the frontiers of American abstraction.

The hierarchy of distilled form, immaculate line, and pure color came close to being the mantra of 1930s modern art—particularly that of American Abstract Artists (AAA), the subject of a new exhibition entitled Blurring Boundaries: The Women of American Abstract Artists, 1936 – Present. From the outset—due as much to their divergent status as abstract artists as to their gender—women of American Abstract Artists were already working on the periphery of the art world. In contrast to the other abstract artist collectives of the period, where equal footing for women was unusual, AAA provided a place of refuge for female artists. Through fifty-four works, Blurring Boundaries explores the artists’ astounding range of styles, including their individual approaches to the guiding principles of abstraction: color, space, light, material, and process.

More than eighty years after its founding, AAA continues to nurture and support a vibrant community of artists with diverse identities and wide-ranging approaches to abstraction. In celebration of this tradition, Blurring Boundaries: The Women of American Abstract Artists traces the extraordinary contributions of the female artists within AAA, from the founders to today’s practicing members. Included are works by historic members Perle Fine, Esphyr Slobodkina, Irene Rice Pereira, Alice Trumbull Mason, and Gertrude Greene, as well as current members such as Ce Roser, Irene Rousseau, Judith Murray, Alice Adams, Merrill Wagner, and Katinka Mann.

Blurring Boundaries: The Women of American Abstract Artists, 1936-Present was organized by The Clara M. Eagle Gallery, Murray State University, Murray, KY, and the Ewing Gallery, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN and is toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Ann Purcell: Kali Poem Series at Berry Campbell


Kali Poem #52 (Vanishing Time ||), 1987-89

Ann Purcell: Kali Poem Series

October 15 - November 14, 2020

view exhibition | view catalog

For pricing information email:

Berry Campbell

530 W 24th Street

New York, NY 10011

Tuesday - Saturday, 10 am - 6 pm

COVID-19 precautions will be observed.

Kali Poem #24, 1986


NEW YORK, NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 22, 2020 – Berry Campbell Gallery is pleased to announce an important exhibition curated from Ann Purcell’s “Kali Poem” series.  For Purcell, the desire to achieve more spontaneity led to this series, which she started in 1983 and is ongoing.  She notes: “For the first time in my work, it was not out of joy, but from some other place, some other sphere. They just seemed to appear.”

However, Purcell knew they had a meaning, and the answer came to her from a poem: May Sarton’s “The Invocation to Kali,” published in Poetry (1971).  At the time, Purcell had only read six lines of the poem and was not aware of the attribution, which later she discovered was by the acclaimed poet, May Sarton.  In fact, such a hindsight recognition is perfectly in keeping with Sarton’s poem, as the poem is one of process and reckoning. In four sections, the poet and reader examine the human need to destroy. The poem’s fifth section, the “Invocation,” is an entreaty to the Hindu goddess Kali to “be with us,” in order to “bring darkness into light.” For Sarton, it is the power represented by Kali—a goddess with a seemingly terrible form who is a destroyer of evil forces and also a kind protector of the universe—that gives recognition to how we must strive to bring creation out of destruction.[i]  These six lines of the “Invocation” had long lodged in Purcell’s mind: “Help us to be the always hopeful / Gardeners of the spirit / Who know that without darkness / Nothing comes to birth / As without light / Nothing flowers.”  

Since 2013, Berry Campbell Gallery has represented Ann Purcell exclusively.  Purcell is preparing for an upcoming solo exhibition at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum and will be included in a group exhibition at the American University at the Katzen Arts Center next year. “Ann Purcell: Kali Poem Series” is on view from October 15, 2020, through November 14, 2020.  The gallery is open with regular fall hours, Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am – 6 pm. 

A nationally recognized artist whose abstract work is represented in museums across the United States, Ann Purcell considers the process to be a critical factor in her work. Employing both gestural and analytical approaches in her paintings, collages, and works on paper, she works within tensions of paradox, ambiguity, duality, and contradiction. Her method is related to dance—an important form for her beginning in her childhood—as well as to music, while she draws on her thorough grounding in European and American Expressionist traditions. Art history is also an important source for Purcell; she states that “one of the things that is so wonderful about art is that art history is an endless resource—one cannot consume it all. There are thousands of years of art to mine and find a challenging and supportive foundation for the artist.” In the catalog for a solo exhibition of Purcell’s work at the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C. (1976), the museum’s chief curator Jane Livingston commended Purcell’s “fluidity with a vast range of idioms.” Livingston stated: “Purcell is among the most disciplined and prolific artists I have encountered: the number of fresh, sometimes startlingly brutal, sometimes exquisitely refined works she manages to create in the continually ongoing process of her production is proportionately remarkable.”[ii]

Purcell was born in 1941 in Washington, D.C. and raised in Arlington, Virginia. She studied independently in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and received her B.A. from the Corcoran College of Art and Design and George Washington University, Washington, D.C., in 1973. She went on to receive her M.A. in Liberal Studies from New York University in 1995. While finishing her degree at the Corcoran, Purcell took a summer course with Washington Color School painter Gene Davis, who became her mentor and lifelong friend. Through Davis, she met Jacob Kainen, who had been Graphic Arts curator at the Smithsonian. Purcell recalls often walking through museums in Washington, D.C. with Davis and Kainen, considering the historical context of works of art and critiquing them. Her development was also shaped by the artist’s colony at Provincetown, Massachusetts. She initially went to the Cape Cod artist’s colony in the summer of 1982 on the recommendation of E. A. Carmean, Jr., then chief curator of twentieth-century art at the National Gallery. In Provincetown, Carmean introduced her to Robert Motherwell, from whose work Purcell has drawn much inspiration. Other sources of influence for Purcell are the cutouts of Matisse and paintings by Helen Frankenthaler and Mark Rothko.

Purcell first exhibited her work in 1971, when she had a solo exhibition at Villa Roma Gallery in San Miguel de Allende. When she showed at the Corcoran in a six-artist show in September 1976, a critic stated: “Ann Purcell may be the one painter here to achieve a personal mood. She draws and paints like an Abstract Expressionist, spreads pigment like a color field painter, uses color like a Darby Bannard or a Richard Diebenkorn, but adds a gentleness all her own.”[iii] In addition to her 1976 solo exhibition at the Corcoran—she has had one-artist shows throughout her career, including two at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York (1980, 1983). She has also participated in numerous group exhibitions, including many organized by museums, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Working in series, Purcell combines a wide range of sources from art history and life, uniting associations and extrapolations. Her “Caravan Series” evoke journeys, as well as “finding new things, places of influence, buying old things, ancient histories, and open discoveries.” The series was inspired by Purcell’s summers in Provincetown in the early 1980s. In the August 1984 issue of The Advocate Summer Guide, Purcell told Margaret Seaver that she had finally found “the mystical, paradoxical space” that she aimed to illustrate in her paintings from the landscape, culture, and light of Provincetown. “I see it in the boats on the bay. They are suspended in the endless and infinite space.”[iv] Other works belong to the “White Space,” “Lagniappe,” “Playground,” and “Kali Poem” series. Whereas the “Lagniappe” works reference a word that entered the English language from Louisiana French, describing small gifts given by merchants to customers for good measure, the “Kali Poem” paintings, featured in this exhibition, emanated from May Sarton’s 1971 poem of invocation to the Hindu goddess.

Throughout Purcell’s career, critics have given recognition to her willingness to explore a range of artistic methods and reconcile seemingly disparate means of expression. In 1976–77, when she was included in Five Plus One, a group exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery, Benjamin Forgey observed in ARTnews that the “light-filled paintings of Ann Purcell, alone among the artists in pursuing a complex, painterly style, are a delightful, sensual explosion.”[v] In 1983, Dan Cameron took note of a few exhibitions of Purcell’s work in an article in Arts magazine. Describing Purcell as “a fervent disciple of modernism,” he remarked on the way she brought together painting and drawing in the collages in her “Playground” series “by manipulating edge, mass, and composition in a single gesture.” Cameron went on to comment that Purcell had extended the “metaphoric velocity of her pieced paintings” into paintings themselves, in which she developed new methods of applying “thin lines, drips, oil stick calligraphy, and controlled skeins of color that act as chromatic splinters.” Observing that within a picture, these elements served to hold the frontal plane in place, Cameron stated how Purcell was able to balance “the stable pictorial structure with a new sense of disorderliness.”[vi] When Purcell exhibited her work at Osuma gallery in 1987, a critic commented that her works were “pure abstractions—Jackson Pollock paint drips accented with the occasional rugged brushstroke of a Franz Kline.”[vii]

Purcell was a prominent teacher of painting, drawing, and art history at the Corcoran College of Art and Design; the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; and Parsons School of Art and Design in New York. She has been a guest lecturer and artist-in-residence at several universities. Her awards include grants from the Hereward Lester Cooke Foundation, National Gallery of Art (1988, for mid-career achievement), the Pollock-Krasner Foundation (1989, 2018), the New York Foundation for the Arts (2013), the Joan Mitchell Foundation (2014), and the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation (2014). Purcell’s work is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; the Santa Barbara Museum; the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; and the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Kali Poem #46 and #47 (Vanishing Time), 1989

Blue Deep (Kali Poem #41), 1987

Kali Poem #53, 1987

[i] Kali is associated with Shiva (as his consort, wife, or associate), a god of destruction and creation. She is depicted with either four or ten arms and is usually dark-skinned (black or blue), indicating that she was created from darkness when the creation had yet to occur. Her features include eyes that are red with intoxication and rage, sharp fangs, claw-like hands with long nails, a red tongue that extends outward, and hair flying and disheveled. She is often shown on a battlefield, wearing a garland of human heads, which represent her killing rage but also her creative powers (the heads symbolize the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet and the beginning of language). Many images portray her naked (conveying her purity) and dancing, standing with her right foot on Shiva’s chest, holding a Khadga (a crescent-shaped sword) in each hand as well as a severed head and a cap to collect its blood. See David R. Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 116–31.
[ii] Jane Livingston, Five Washington Artists, exh. cat. (Washington, D.C.: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1976).
[iii] Barbara Gold, “Five Plus One at Corcoran,” The Sun (Baltimore), September 26, 1976, p. D8.
[iv] Margaret Seaver, “Ann Purcell, A Self-Assured Artist,” The Summer Advocate (Provincetown, Massachusetts), August 16, 1984.
[v] Benjamin Forgey, “Washington, D.C.: Catching Up with Morris Louis,” Art News (November 1976), p. 104.
[vi]  Dan Cameron, “Ann Purcell,” Arts (November 1983).
[vii] Pamela Kessler, “Four Artists in Search of No Subject,” Washington Post, September 25, 1987, p. WK47.