I am still walking on a cloud from this weekend when Purvis and Carlotta received the First Place Painting Award in the 34th Annual Raleigh Fine Art Society’s North Carolina Artist Exhibition juried by Mark Sloan, Director of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Charleston. Mr. Sloan gave a wonderful presentation and critique that has made me review my next few pieces again. I love that Mr. Sloan used the word “intricate” describing this piece. Not sure what to do with all my pent-up emotion. I ideated, painted, and learned how to use new social media for the last few days. I thought that now would be a good time to talk about Purvis and Carlotta.
I will reveal a little of the history of the work and my greater intent, but there are some things that I want to keep because I ultimately enjoy the ambiguity of the symbols. One of my past works was described as having “a slightly sinister air of mystery,”* I love that too :-). The interpretations are richer for the viewer if the connection to the work is personal.
My art comes from one of three places: family history, places I have been, and breaking the grid. I take these inspirations and superimpose a story. Purvis and Carlotta comes from a photograph I found in my Mom’s stash of family pictures. The original photograph dates from 1936 (my Mom’s was a copy from the 60’s) when my Mom’s oldest brother was about a year old and Granny and Papa, Mom’s parents, were together in Knightdale, NC visiting Granny’s sister Florence. Carlotta is Granny’s oldest sister and reportedly the “apple of Great Granddaddy’s eye.” Great Granddaddy wanted Carlotta to teach, but Carlotta chose nursing and was a nurse at Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh. For many years, Carlotta and Great Granddaddy were said to be at odds about her decision. Great Granddaddy eventually came around said Carlotta was good at what she did and had chosen the right profession. She never had children and purportedly had a very stern demeanor. Purvis was legally blind at one point and worked in the Radiology Department developing x-rays. Carlotta, it is told, helped him get the job and helped him receive treatment at Butner that restored some of his vision. Just cool little tidbits. The inspiration photograph is one of several taken that day of all the family.
This image attracted me because of the shadow on the tree, Carlotta’s expression, and Purvis’s proximity to Carlotta. I played up the shadow and removed a bit of visual clutter from the original and cropped the scene. I left the house for the setting of place, and I love the clothes! He reminds me of Jimmie Stewart with his slicked back hair, leather aviator jacket and towering height. She looks strong and in control. My palette consists of what I think of as colors from their time. I heightened some color for emphasis because, as I also stated before, this is my interpretation as an outsider to the actual event. It is my imposition of a story. I think Carlotta looks irritated and Purvis somewhat intimidating, but the shadows tell a story of the truth of them as a married couple. Everyday, in their case that of the great depression, gives challenge and reason for unhappiness, but in the end love is the bond that keeps a couple intermingled and as one. Further, we have an impression of what people are like, but there is a greater truth that is not revealed in the flesh, but is none-the-less a truth. The pieces around are boards (planks), a hatchet blade, two bricks and stones. I will leave it up to you for your interpretation, but they are left and placed deliberately. I hope I revealed just enough, but not too much to keep the mystery and interest alive. This was one of my favorite pieces to work on. At one point Carlotta looked like George Washington on the dollar bill and at another Mona Lisa! I like to believe they were a very colorful couple :-). They were certainly contrasting!
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*Juror’s Statement from Ann Dearsley-Vernon, NC State Fair Art & Photography Exhibition, 2007