With their economy of materials – raw canvas, staples, suspension wire, found frames – Doris Purchase’s paintings exude an enigmatic and compelling presence that suggests a meditation on the nature of painting, its history and its infinite capacity for poetic exploration. . .
The first thought for many people when viewing these works may be the question of whether they could, in fact, be called paintings. Certainly, one might say, they are more akin to sculpture – broadly rectangular, wall-hung canvases, twelve inches deep, perforated amidst real frames that delineate a literal empty space, mostly revealing the wall behind. Indeed, the lack of actual paint (other than white gesso variously applied to the canvas or the coloring of the frames) might still suggest to some viewers that these works are not paintings. Other viewers may concede that these works are hybrids, somewhere between painting and sculpture.
Yet, in addition to their direct aesthetic, material and experiential characteristics, it is precisely through their engagement with critical discourse, the philosophical, historical and expressive scope of serious painting, that these works can be most fully understood and their power as an advanced art. revealed.
Culturally dominant over the centuries, painting has developed a rich body of visual language and discourse, a vocabulary that today seems endless despite the various deterministic critical positions from the middle of the 20th century. These either sought to proclaim the « death of painting » or to present areas of practice such as installation, conceptual art and performance as Zeitgeist practices that replaced painting and sculpture in relevance. contemporary. As the parameters of serious painting became more fluid and often intertwined in these areas of practice, ideas of what painting could be, occupied a much larger tent.
Doris Purchase’s paintings presume to benefit from this history, and indeed superficially they could be seen as being in dialogue with the American minimalism of the 1960s and early 1970s which eschewed relational composition in favor of symmetry, espousing a neutrality or an absence of color, and favoring square or simple orthogonal geometric shapes. Yet in other significant aspects, Purchase’s work is the antithesis of minimalism. It uses the traditional constituents of the painted canvas, and contrasts with the industrial, off-the-shelf materials favored by Donald Judd, Robert Morris and Dan Flavin and other members of the minimalist movement. Even when Purchase uses the picture frame as found object / ready-madeit does so because it is part of the historical vocabulary of painting as an object of art.
Typically in his work, the frame is placed centrally, over and within the artwork, and delineates a literal void or space beyond the frame, which, let’s not forget, is a real LOST AND FOUNDt frame. This use of the literal in space echoes minimalist practice, but in her work Purchase subverts this usage. While they avoided metaphor and symbolism, Purchase reintroduces the idea of the frame into a painting as a window to another reality – or rather she inserts this metaphorical or symbolic reference into works that otherwise permeate the work of art as a whole, from a sense of material or constructed objectivity.
In its founding treaty From Pictura, published in 1450, tItalian Renaissance artist and historian Leon Battista Alberti first formulated the idea of a painting frame as a window to the world:
First, on the surface I’m going to paint, I draw a rectangle of the size I want, which I think of as an open window through which you can see the subject to be painted. ( 1.19)
From the Renaissance, paint ( on painting) has been a compelling presence on the painting’s realistic and mimetic tropes. For Doris Purchase, her use of frames in her work has a multipurpose purpose; her literal presence is part of her concept of bringing together the constituents of painting as material elements, but she undoubtedly sees the frames, and indeed the library of materials she uses, as having a reference to the outside world. to paintings:
…….these pieces are inversions. It is about unearthing what is hidden and bringing to light the raw materials of a painting: the canvas, the thread, the staples and the gesso come to life and the viewer is invited to contemplate the myriad of sources which bring together a artwork, from the cotton pickers for the canvas to the metal miners in the wire, the trees that were felled to make the frame and the sun and rain that sustained them.
These works isolate and bring together the specific material elements that are traditionally used to create a gesso canvas prepared for the act of painting; then, omitting the act of painting, they add the traditional presentational elements of frame and hanging wire to the lexicon. In each work, all of these elements are then reconfigured and assembled in different ways specific to that work. Purchase deconstructed the constituents of Painting but then rebuilt. In each work, she reconstructs to poetic effect.
The ancient Greek term Poiesis ( poetry) where we get the word poetry, places great emphasis on the act of doing, an achievement of something that didn’t exist before. By evoking an idea of Painting without using paint, by reconfiguring its constituents, Purchase invites the viewer to consider its essence as a site of poetic possibility. By omitting painting from the equation, she can recontextualize other elements: thus the formations of threads suspended across the void, surrounded by the frames, articulate the sense of a figure/ground relationship, traditional to most paintings. . The suspension wire is often arranged horizontally, suggesting a horizon, a landscape.
It is true that, enclosing a literal void beyond the wire, the frames themselves lead the viewer not to a sky, but to the wall behind. Yet there is a romanticism to this work, a sense of silent, timeless presence that is not unrelated to the work of Caspar David Friedrich. They invite us to meditate on absence and presence. Absent the rhetorical devices of Painting but present are the psychic traces of our understanding of what Painting can be. They are icons that juxtapose a sense of transcendental possibility that painting has often embodied, with a recognition of the visceral, material reality of the constituents of painting. They are, in fact, the opposite of deterministic iterations of the history of painting as a linear trajectory leading to the so-called “death of painting”; at bottom, they are poetic reconfigurations of the constituents of painting, enacting and celebrating it as a site and an art form of infinite possibilities.
Geoffrey Nawn 2021
© Geoffrey Nawn All rights reserved.
© All photographs by Doris Purchase. All rights reserved.