Ann Purcell “Kali Poem Series”

Berry Campbell

poster for Ann Purcell “Kali Poem Series”
[Image: Ann Purcell "Kali Poem #24" (1986) acrylic on canvas, 60 x 72 in.]
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Ends in 18 days

Berry Campbell Gallery presents an 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.

Throughout her career, Ann Purcell has been filled with a passion for exploring ideas and methods from a wide range of art. In an artist statement she wrote: “I love art. One of the things that is so wonder-full about art is that art history is an endless resource—one cannot consume it all –and one is never bored. There are thousands of years of art to mine and a challenging and supportive foundation for the artist. I believe art is essential and a rewarding experience for humankind.”

Each of her series begins with a particular problem she has chosen to address, which then leads her to new and broadened inquiries. For example, her “Playground” series developed over the course of six years in the late 1970s, from her longtime desire to “do something about Matisse’s paper cutouts,” which she considers one of the “last great innovations in art.” Drawing as well from related elements in a variety of sources—Braque’s paper collages, Motherwell’s collages, Stella’s “Indian Birds,” and Frankenthaler’s, Pollock’s, and Rothko’s paintings—she created works consisting of collaged or pieced paintings of painted canvas applied to painted canvas, which she combined with an exploration of various drawing materials in painting. She states: “The process allowed many different techniques, such as expanding color mixing, juxtapositions, surface plays, mixing the random with the ordered, and several levels of spatial contradictions—continuously in a process of affirming and denying themselves.” Her “Caravans” followed, but were more formal. Also including collage, they evoke movement—both in space and time—with some elements that are atmospheric and mysterious and others that represent a duality of figure and ground, in which the positive becomes the negative and vice versa. The works suggest movement as well as historical associations and homages to artists she admires.

For Purcell, the desire to achieve more spontaneity in these series led to her “Kali Poem” series started in 1983 and ongoing. However, such inevitability was not intentional. Instead, it was the result of a compulsion she felt, even against her will. 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.” To her they were “not like the invited guests to a dinner party, but someone a friend has brought along.” However, she 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 she later 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.”

Purcell’s Kali paintings evoke the poem in several respects. Instead of the considered placement of shape and line in her “Playgrounds” and “Caravans,” she found herself using her long-time gestural skills, consisting of forceful, vigorous brush movements influenced by music and her dance study and practice. One can sense in the paintings, her struggle with a force greater than herself, to take control and be free at the same time. Like Sarton’s poem, Purcell’s “Kali” paintings feel raw and confessional, their darkness both in tone and mood exposing inner turmoil and powerful truths. However, light also breaks through, as if reflecting the goddess’s dual nature and the power she wields. In Kali Poem #43, streaks of white appear to detonate in an atmospheric otherworldly realm. Reviewing a show in 1987, a critic stated that one of Purcell’s Kali poems was “white overall, as if the sun has blinded you, and left spots before your eyes—those violent strokes in the center of the painting.”[i] Kali Poem #49 and its many shades of green express new life. Kali Poem, #46 and #47 (Vanishing Time) is a diptych that suggests an epic contest between forces of darkness and light. They are equal in balance and struggle creating a dialogue between the two parts. In Kali Poem #31, a vortex of white gives the canvas a kinetic aspect of forward motion, yet a red stain at the right seems to pull us back. Even the coming of the light cannot dispel the darkness of the past. Similar gestures can be seen in Kali Poem #56 (Garden of Delights), it’s wild, energetic movements both “beautiful/grotesque; tender/terrifying.”[ii] Purcell’s subtitle references Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych of ca. 1490–1510 (The Prado), evokes parallels.

Since 1976, dualities and polarities of opposites, balanced/imbalanced, freedom and order, have long been important elements of Purcell’s work including spatial contradictions and spontaneity contrasted with an extreme analytical method. However, in her “Kali Poems,” the conflict reached a culmination that is striving to bring light from darkness that we as “gardeners of the spirit” must constantly seek to achieve. Purcell perceives the “Kali Poem” series as belonging to one “poem.” The approximately ninety-six paintings in the ongoing series reveal that “gardening the spirit” is a constant journey and an endless adventure.
Lisa N. Peters, Ph.D.

Media

Schedule

from October 15, 2020 to November 14, 2020

Artist(s)

Ann Purcell

Website

http://www.berrycampbell.com (venue's website)

Fee

Free

Venue Hours

From 10:00 To 18:00
Closed on Mondays, Sundays

Access

Address: 530 W 24th St., New York, NY 10011
Phone: 212-924-2178

Between 10th and 11th Ave. Subway: C/E to 23rd Street.

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