While choosing work to be included in Hybrid Practices, Alyss Vernon and Kathy Edwards Hayslett had the pleasure of spending time with Nancy L. Purington in her Iowa City home studio discussing art and eating egg salad sandwiches for lunch. Nancy studied figurative painting at the Kansas City Art Institute, later earning her MFA from the University of Iowa.
Nancy is a medieval modernist of sorts. She uses colors, materials, and natural elements that were prevalent in 15th century Byzantine art practices, including lapis, cobalt, gold, cadmium, and palladium. Nancy’s interest in these materials and their origins are deeply rooted in her upbringing near the Mississippi River– curiosities about the deep, dark night sky by the river where earth and sky seemed to blend.
Nancy’s material exploration is as vast as the immaterial sky she continually turns to for inspiration. In addition to mixed media painting and prints, Nancy has worked in the world of textiles and translates her imagery to woven fabrics. These experiments are a way of expressing personal geographies through patterning.
Nancy Purington’s Mississippi River: Towards the Limits of Mystery
Written by Jane Milosch, Visiting Professorial Fellow in Provenance and Curatorial Studies School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow, and formerly chief curator, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Artists are often drawn to the same subject over and over again. In Nancy Purington’s case, it is the Mississippi river, for Monet it was water lilies and for Cezanne it was Mont Sainte Victoire. Why is this? If an artist has created a successful image of their subject, a powerful work of art, what propels them to revisit the same subject, scene, or place?
Perhaps they grapple to reveal the mystery of their subject, to capture not only the physical reality, but to express what is not visible to the human eye. German philosopher Josef Pieper, in his book, Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation, suggests that: “Before you can express anything in a tangible form, you first need eyes to see. The mere attempt, therefore, to create an artistic form compels the artist to take a fresh look at the visible reality; it requires authentic and personal observation.” In looking again and again at his or her subject, the artist gains a “deeper and more receptive vision, a more intense awareness, a sharper and more discerning understanding, a more patient openness for all things quiet and inconspicuous, an eye for things previously overlooked.”
When Purington puts color and form to paper, using oil, watercolor, pastel, gouache, and gold leaf to render the countless shapes and shades of a wave ebbing and swelling in the Mississippi, she brings the macrocosm of the river into focus. She helps us to see the endless beauty of the river and to contemplate the mystery of a moment, encouraging us to live, to look closer, again and again.