Julia Purinton: Artist gets around
“Of The Land” is Edgewater Gallery on the Green’s first group exhibition, featuring work from six Vermont Artists on view this month. Painter Julia Purinton has shown with the gallery since it opened in 2009. She maintains that she isn’t “strictly a Vermont Artist,” but, she says, “I love spending time in my studio in the Mad River Valley in Vermont, and hope one day to retire there. But it’s more likely that I’ll end up driving around the country in my airstream until I’m in my 90’s and they revoke my license.”
Frequent travel from city to country has given Purinton a steady view of how the New England landscape changes through the year. As she and her husband Tim split their time between Cambridge, Mass., and Warren, Vt., Purinton said, “Our transition comprises a weekly, sometimes twice weekly, commute on route 89, which is a good time to think,” and has made them experts at “assessing peak foliage and winter road conditions.” Like many, Purinton said, they “originally came to Vermont to ski,” but “love our mountainside perch in all seasons.”
Even these repetitive drives can become fodder for Purinton’s imaginative scenes, as many who travel similar routes are familiar with the way the blur of green along the highway breaks to reveal a glimpse of hidden roadside places. Of the pieces featured at Edgewater, “Trout Fishing” shows a stand of tall pines, evoked through deep greens and dark sienna, the top branches gently dressed in golden sunlight. “Winter is Coming” is a seasonally germane view of what are perhaps the first changing trees nestled in the center of a valley, white mist rising from a distant waterway. This piece and another wide vista, “Take a Hike,” are especially redolent of the Hudson River School, in their glowing treatment of an expansive landscape.
Purinton has always spent a lot of time moving from place to place, beginning when she was a child and moved “quite a bit, living in Maryland, Tennessee and Delaware, but always returning to my maternal grandparents’ home on the banks of the Potomac River before settling in a small town near Kennett Square in southern Pennsylvania.” All of these places seep into her paintings, which feature landscapes richly layered from memory and myth in green fairytale forests steeped in aureate light.
Purinton came to New England in high school, and then attended Harvard. “My university didn’t have much of a studio art program,” Purinton said. “’Fine Arts’ referred to Art History, and that’s what I studied.” But this didn’t deter her. “Ever since I was a little girl, I spent most of my free time drawing and painting, and eventually it became impossible for me to pursue any other kind of work.”
As a child, Purinton obsessed over fairytales, transposing the characters from the books she read in her grandmother’s attic to her surroundings as she ran through the gardens and woods around her family’s Victorian home in Pennsylvania. As an adult, she continued to create landscapes not tied to reality, however many of her pieces, especially the selection that show at Edgewater Gallery on the Green, illicit strong reactions from viewers who are partial to the mystic beauty of New England landscapes.
An emotional response is what Purinton is after. “My work is inspired by my emotional reaction to certain kinds of light in the landscape, especially that which is reflected, diffused or intensified by the beginning or end of the day, or the changing season.”
Recently, Purinton has been working from some different place inspirations. “Most of my recent paintings are based on imagery from the West: Alaska, Montana, Oregon, and the Central Coast of California.” “The Pacific coast,” she said, “has a very different feel from the Mid-Atlantic or New England; probably because the sun sets over the ocean instead of rising there. To me, it seems unfamiliar, mysterious and so, compelling. The Western rivers are powerful and expansive, with taller trees to filter the light and catch the mist, and the landforms of the rocks and mountains are magnificent. There are natural cathedrals on every path.”
Another outlet for Purinton’s talent is surprisingly stationary: painting murals directly onto walls for clients. She began doing this after college, she said, as “I somehow managed not to acquire any marketable skills in school. But I wasn’t afraid to experiment with techniques and found my art history background helpful in interpreting different design directives in collaboration with designers and architects.” Her murals range from figures reminiscent of greek mythology in the style of an ancient fresco, to faux painted patterns and florals, to garden scenes inspired by traditional Chinese painting, and of course, her signature scenes of serene stands of trees, early sunlight catching on their branches.
At home in her studio in Cambridge, Purinton says she has been working on some different approaches. “I’m working on a series of large landscapes which are somewhat more abstract,” Purinton said. “These new pieces have an edited, restrained palette and utilize many layers of washes and glazes to develop complexity and depth. I’m interested in exploring different methods of applying a variety of paint mediums to make images that are more dramatic and evocative while at the same time less obviously descriptive.”
Purinton describes herself as “plagued by wanderlust and a nomadic restlessness,” and that her art is likewise affected by “shifting tides and changing seasons.” She describes her philosophy of humans’ strained, often disastrous relationship with the natural world and how we “find solace in the expression of a landscape.” Her work proves her belief that for artist and viewer alike, a rendering of place, even if it is wholly fictive, soothes us like a memory.