AS: I am curious why you chose to use the term “manifesto.”
Anne Sherwood Pundyk:I could say, “Artist Statement,” but that feels too passive as a prescription for how and why I paint. I associate the term “Manifesto” with an urgent call to action. Since 2009, my painting has formally become more reductive through three distinct bodies of work each with their own written manifesto . Respectively, each written piece affirms a new order in a different way. Common to all is my concern with the idea of agency taken together with my on-going re-examination of the tradition of the medium. As my thinking and understanding changes, so does my work.
My admiration for Kant’s Critique of Judgment is behind my earliest manifesto, “Recognitions: 2008-2013.” Using oil and acrylic on stretched linen, this body of work focused on layered gestural responses to intuitively selected photographic references. For this manifesto I wrote, “Embedded in the string of images within each painting are my own essential stories. They overlap with older stores such as myths, fables and fairy tales. In so doing, they begin to communicate to others the inaudible truth of the inner self.” In his profound philosophical treatise Kant develops a logical step-by-step case for examining how we make a non-logical judgment of beauty. In keeping with Kant’s analytical mode, I classified the levels in my process using paint to bring an introspective, subjective realm into physical form.
Next, “The Revolution Will Be Painted:2014-2016” projects an assertive, activist tone. The witchy, psychic interventions of performance artists with whom I started working during this time inspired the changes in this body of work. Using a trial-by-fire approach working in unexplored formal and technical terrain I pared down my materials and began to make purely abstract compositions on large unstretched canvases. I made the connection between spells and rituals and my new approach to painting through large free form pours and impressions of paint accompanied by strident colorful zigzag motifs.
This manifesto is written in verse modeled on Gil Scott-Heron’s 1971 powerful civil rights protest, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” His rap questions fundamentally the veracity of the medium of television. My piece is a collage of phrases each reinforcing the magical power of the medium of painting culled from favorite art historical and critical writings. The phrases catalogue metaphysical moments of painted “truths,” such as, “The painted marks will tell of surfaces simultaneously combining touch as sight. The Revolution will be Painted.” Collaborating with contemporary feminist artists woke me to examine my own personal truths. The zigzags came from a vision I had while creating a video based on a mother’s protective spell I wrote. I saw the zigzags emanating out from my shadow in the footage I shot and transposed them into my paintings. Looking back I can see that not only does this affirm the fertile power of a woman’s shadow-self, but that of all the spells I could have chosen, I wrote a protective spell for my children to compensate for what my own Mother, and even my Grandmother, had not been able to do for me. I was asserting myself, but also the primacy of painting itself, which I saw as not getting the respect I thought it deserved.
My most recent manifesto, “Brain Cake: 2017-2018” shifts to a more reflective, nostalgic feel. In these paintings I am honing approaches and materials I developed in the prior body of work, “The Revolution Will Be Painted.” The title, “Brain Cake,” is taken from a short fictional story I co-wrote in 1986 based on a dream. In the story a young woman is both horrified and delighted to follow a mysterious recipe for a cake that calls for a portion of her own brain. The character reacts to the cerebral baked good with, “…Irritation…Amusement…Vindication. Of course, It was perfect that she should clandestinely force feed [her guests] part of her brain.” I co-wrote the story over 30 years ago just before my sister Julia encouraged me to make a pivotal move east to paint for a year. Three years ago, Julia had a stroke. Her recovery has inspired me to learn about recent discoveries in the new science of mind. We now know, for example, that changes to the brain are constant and ongoing throughout life; the brain can repair, replace and retrain its neural circuitry. We “feed” each other’s brains through interaction and shared experience. My work continues to be large-scale abstract work on unstretched canvas. Going deeper into this mode, I am refining ways to access parallel states of mind and links between broader expansions of space. Shades of indigo blue predominate. I’ve narrowed my choice of colors to shades of deep blues with large arcs and overlapping circles replacing the lightening bolts from earlier paintings.
AS: In an interview for artcritical (Noah Dillon, 2015) you say that you learned a lot from activist performance artists but there is a general “lack of appreciation—maybe even disdain”—for painting as a medium. What is your take on that these days? Do you see any changes?
Anne Sherwood Pundyk: I am grateful to Noah for capturing a pivotal moment in my work so well in that interview. I had just created my own “arena in which to act” in the form of my first unstretched drop cloth painting. Now that several year shave passed my take on the bias against painting is that is reflects more about the limitations of the artists who feel that way, than on the relative power of painting or me personally as a painter. Moreover, there are many examples of artists who create across multiple disciplines, but I think everyone has a specific medium they associate with as part of their core identity and mode of creation. It’s almost like one’s orientation of gender or race. For me, it’s painting. I was surprised to encounter a bias against painting amongst certain individuals and feminist art “tribes,” especially since fighting prejudice and promoting social justice is such a strong theme of our times.
I continue to find value and inspiration in performances that reveal intelligence, humor and depth. Since the interview I’ve undertaken many other joint projects. I enjoy working with people in different media such as video, dance, music, and literature as part of my overarching interest in creating a theatre of agency in my painting. Honestly, despite these tactics it’s an on-going challenge to partner within the arts given the competitive nature of the artistic ego. I’ve also found it helpful to become involved in a large networking project specifically for women painters called Lady Painters, started by artists Jenn Dierdorf and Kelsey Shwetz. This has been an enormously inspiring and supportive community that offers a sophisticated dialogue about painting and the challenges of being an artist.
AS:Can you elaborate on your manifesto “Brain Cake?”
Anne Sherwood Pundyk: It’s a story of witches brews and brain science wrapped in a fable instructing women on domestic obedience with a twist. The manifesto’s namesake story, “Brain Cake,” charters strange domestic territory. The encyclopedically stocked kitchen and pantry overwhelms the story’s protagonist who bizarrely acquiesces to scoop out a portion of her brain as she follows a recipe to create a dessert for her guests. The emotional context for this body of work is suggested by its manifesto’s surreal source story. It connects to my quest to understand my relationship with my Mother and ideas about gender roles I’ve inherited through her. I had the dream upon which the story is based over thirty years ago just prior to starting a new important chapter in my own life. I moved back east away from my parents in California and started a relationship with Jeff who I would soon marry. The story resurfaced for me last year, more than three decades later, at the time of another familial realignment prompting me to examine the behavior of family members in response to my sister Julia’s recent stroke. The severe nature of the trauma prompted by Julia’s injury and the vantage of so many years have helped me read the patterns that were invisible to me until now. The story’s fairy tale-like quality harkens back to my Grandmother’s work as an illustrator for children’s stories, but with a darker, more visceral undertone.
Traditionally women are taught to sacrifice their own needs for those of others. In one sense the story is about sacrificing intellectual energy for a menial task in exchange for domestic stability and security. On the other hand spicing up the recipe with brain matter could be seen as an act of revenge similar to a servant or slave, spitting into her master’s soup, or more potently, adding poison to the dish. As in a fairy tale, the recipe is like a witch’s repulsive concoction with magical properties. Likewise, the protagonist is holding sway by force-feeding her guests with her thoughts and ideas. Finally, from a scientific vantage, the story evokes the physical transfer from generation to generation of genetic information that manifests in so many ways made through a biochemical code that transcends death. Harvesting her brain matter for the cake is equal parts sacrifice, revenge, and inheritance.
The interpretation of the tale that resonates most for me now is seeing the main character’s act as a hidden rebellion when she secretly gives her guests a dose of her thoughts. Sharing a portion of her brain matter feels like a work-around for the normal contortions of identity I have been schooled in by women in my family. It also memorializes my urge for disruptive truth telling symbolized by my naturally curly hair. Sadly, the current truth is that my beloved sister Julia, while making her recovery, is lost to me. I didn’t realize until loosing her that Julia had always given me the mother’s unconditional love and support I didn’t fully get from our Mother. I mourn and try to accept this truth as I paint. It is this more intimate realm I am now exploring as evoked by the dream story “Brain Cake.”
Part 3 will publish Tomorrow