Mythology Under Construction: Jennifer Purdum at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center

March 18th, 2012  |  Published in March 2012, On View

Trojan House # 3," ink and latex on paper, 60" X 80", 2008, Jennifer Purdum

The mystery in Jennifer Purdum’s paintings and drawings is flagrantly upfront, like a joke with a disturbing punch-line that really has nothing to do with the joke outside of being connected to it.  In many of the pictures in “Inside/Out:  Drawings and Paintings by Jennifer Purdum” now on display at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center through April 14, chunky, intricately rendered and eerily misshapen wood constructions have fallen like cartoon anvils on top of anonymous Rubenesque bodies.  In others the wooden objects (often resembling contorted coffins or dog-houses built in an alternative universe) have fused with the appendages into human/furniture machinations, like Dr. Frankenstein went both to IKEA and the graveyard for spare parts.  In others, it’s just the wooden totems themselves floating in painterly space, geometric driftwood stranded on a color-field beach.

Purdum’s meticulous artistry fuses with a light touch.  Many of her works have a blurry California-dreamy feel, like a white-wine buzz while listening to Joni Mitchell’s Hissing of Summer Lawns.  The six archival digital prints that line one wall at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center are pure poetry.  In these, the wood/human amalgamations are collaged atop grainy, misty suburban landscapes replete with sinister parked cars, yawning garage doors, and shiny blank windows all forming a vinyl-sided oblivion.  The photos in the background are surveillance photos maybe, images of crime-scenes about to happen, and Purdum’s odd little creatures pose in front of these backdrops like advertisements for something you may not ever want to purchase but feel obligated to recognize.

“Trojan House # 3” is the exhibit’s masterful centerpiece.  The blocky blonde-wood apparatus atop the legs in this one has a supernatural bluntness to it, like a fragment of a mythological castle currently under construction.  It’s in the grain and shine of the wood where Purdum seems to lose and somehow find herself at the same time.  You could stare at the wood’s circles and lines for hours, taking in the alacrity of the rendering while also marveling at its precision.  This is the kind of drawing and painting you never really get tired of seeing – purposefully intent and realistic, but electrified by the artist’s urges enough to look otherworldly and to become something entirely new.

“Inside/Out” benefits from its venue greatly.  The Clifton Cultural Arts Center’s gallery is a ragtag kind of a space, a large, institutional-feeling room with wood wainscoting and squeaky wooden floors.  Purdum’s paintings and prints own the room, transforming it into a ghostly architectural museum.  Her works, like the space itself, have an angelic, ethereal awkwardness.  I kept thinking of De Chirico’s blank, unsettling manmade universes as I walked through the exhibit.  “Disquieting muses” abound here.

–Keith Banner

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