Friday, April 20, 2012

Henry Purdy Breaks the Rules with 'In The Shade'.

Check this one out.  This work by Henry Purdy of Prince Edward Island wins 'The Portrait's Gold Star Award.  Its creative, complex, unique and possibly iconoclastic, and if I thought a bit more I could likely add a few more adjectives.

What really gets me is that Purdy breaks every rule in the painter's handbook.  Let's begin with the focal point.  Take a good look at the work and tell me what you think it is?

It seems pretty evident that its a naked leg. Not a face, not a whole body. A single, naked leg. Does this not seem a little odd?

But there is more.  The seated person on the left side of the glider is so lost in shadows that the person is all but non existent. And if that isn't enough, Purdy uses a network of patterned glider swing lines, to literally cross out the person who sits on the right side. And in the end, the only part of the body untouched is the lower leg.

Now, look where its located.  Smack, dab, in the middle of the work.

Even  the greenest beginner, will tell you that the focal sweet spot of a painting is most often located in one of the quadrants of the painting.  And that's just the beginning.

Most artists would agree that the preferred visual pathway which leads to the focal point is from left to right - which in our culture, is our natural route of vision for reading a line of text. But, Purdy, mysteriously, leads us from the right corner into the work.

Let's return to the focal leg. The two people who sit on the glider are engaged in conversation. You have to really work to get a good mental imprint of what is happening here, for the focal point is obfuscated, by a fractured assortment of broken and confused light patterns. There are the lines of the glider, and there are cast shadows and there is a line of trees running across the canvas.

Does that 2x4, which runs obliquely into the painting, on the right side of the seated person, have any function?  Is it really part of the gliding swing? If so, then where is its balancing piece on the left side?

A path of light usually takes us somewhere in a work, and it makes a contribution to the order,  pattern and intentionality of the work. The fragmenated, (although the lines are doubtlessly functional to the operation of the glider) set of glider lines appear to scribble the owner of the leg right out of existence.

There is no easy passage into this painting. Purdy doesn't craft his work for the viewer's convenience.
This is a painting which says, "Art doesn't need to be defined by the limitation of rules. It exists onto itself  and the path it follows is decided by the artist and not by conventional wisdom, rules, or tradition."

And just when I settle back and get smug about this realization,  I hear the quiet inner voice of Purdy whispering in my ear, "Well if you don't have rules, then what is left  not much just- a painting with a sunlit leg?"

In the end, I wonder if the artist isn't making a statement about the style of artistic realism.  Is he telling us that the kind of realism led by Chistopher Pratt and Alex Colville builds its power on a kind of naked simplicity and that if you overwhelm a realistic work with complexity its power is lost?

Its all so very philosophical isn't it?


  1. Wow. What a beautiful and intriguing work! It does make me sit up and take notice...and reconsider all the "rules" I usually follow:-)

  2. Well...rules may be just what you need Karen, if you aren't into creating, odd focal points.


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