AS: What can you tell me about your painting process?
Anne Sherwood Pundyk: To begin, I am alone in my studio out in the country. I clear away the past. I am free. I don’t need to do anything. I have no expectations based on prior work. I wait. An urge eventually calls me toward my materials. My materials are humble drop cloth canvas and house paint. They will be transformed and elevated. I want to make something new. It will affirm a hopeful light. It will hold a dark truth. It will be more than the sum of its parts. It will take whatever size and shape it needs to take. I am there to shepherd its creation. I start by mixing a color that matches my mood. I pour a large quantity of paint onto canvas on the floor of my studio or outside on the lawn. I watch the movement and density of the paint. I pour more paint or water to compose in response to what I see. I work with large heavy pieces of canvas sometimes soaking wet with paint and water, bending, rolling, and pulling. I learn as I go. I extend my body to my materials. The canvas becomes my skin and the paint is a bodily life fluid. Action becomes image.
Once the stained canvas pieces are dry, I tack different sections together on the wall. I compose more than one painting at a time. Several paintings may become siblings by sharing different sections of painted canvas cut from the same larger piece. I have learned that for me stretchers inhibit the possibilities for what happens compositionally in my paintings. I have to work from the inside out, rather than stay within the preconceived shape of the stretcher. I am occasionally compelled to interject elements of pure geometry into the narrative of my compositions using string, tacks, drawing tools, colored pencil and hand-applied paint. I refine and clarify the rhythms and phrasing of the composition through small adjustments. I work back and forth between the floor and the walls.
I stitch together the panels of canvas with my sewing machine, once a composition is set. I think about seams, hems, and lines of colored threads as I construct. The paintings are very large and often I am guiding many yards of stiff canvas under the needle’s pathway. I gravitate toward the unplanned and unexpected by improvising at each stage. I make mistakes and begin again. I retrace my steps. Most of my paintings have been assembled and sewn, then taken apart, re-stained, re-drawn and reassembled anew.
Concurrent with the large canvas works, I make small works on paper using the same approach. I work through related compositions and abstract narratives in both scales. With my works on paper, through scale and cropping, I reference books, book pages, and story telling with words that come from a non-verbal place.
Unstretched canvas has an open, permeable quality that feels viscerally maternal. It is strong yet vulnerable. Like protective nomadic tents, my paintings travel easily and adapt to their environment. As part of my painting process I think about where and how to install the work. There are many possibilities. My solo show of unstretched paintings, “The Revolution Will Be Painted” took place in a white box gallery. It made me curious to explore beyond the given architecture for support, keeping in mind that I need large spaces for my work. I have envisioned suspending my work on freestanding scaffolding towers for several years, but didn’t have the opportunity to try it until this past fall when I worked with Bridget Elkin on a collaborative large-scale installation of paintings and video called “Worlds Within Worlds,” at the Greenport American Legion in Greenport, NY.
Interestingly, the experience felt like a performance. I felt exposed and vulnerable showing my work this way. The technical considerations such as installing the scaffolding concerned me. I didn’t want to compromise the integrity of individual paintings. I was worried that it would seem that the work and by extension, I would be taking up too much space. This and the fear of judgment and failure paralyzed me for a period of time. Ultimately, I accepted my fate and moved forward embracing what was to come.
I can contrast these fears to the validation I felt connecting with the audience for the installation. The audience embraced the very qualities that make my work difficult for the conventional art industry to accept. The size was an asset; the viewer could be enveloped in the work. The open quality in my compositions allowed each viewer to bring his or her own story to the canvases. The audience members read heroic, mythical, celestial associations into the compositions. They could see more than one painting at once. The front of each painting was spot lit and the light came through and revealed the back of the work in surprising ways. The lighting created unplanned effects that added dimension to the work as a whole. The work attracted people to want to be seen and photographed in front of it, to become part of the work. Painting as theatre of agency was enacted. I couldn’t help thinking of my Grandmother’s pleasure making her large, colorful, room-sized mural a century ago.
AS: If I recall correctly you are passionate about ballet. How do you see the relationship between your visual art and dance?
Anne Sherwood Pundyk: I love to dance. As a dancer and painter you inhabit movement in the moment. It is instantly obvious if the commitment isn’t there. My paintings and works on paper are composed of edited sections of flows and stains in a range of densities and hues. My painting process is to some degree passive. I set up scenarios for the materials to interact naturally on their own. I don’t want to be fully in control. I track the gestures created by the movement of the paint once it has dried and crop and edit them together to form a visual narrative like the choreography of a dance. You read the authenticity of a dancer’s performance; in the same way you feel the presence of paint’s organic forms arranged in my compositions.
To reinforce this idea I collaborated with dancer and choreographer Jessica Kilpatrick for a performance at the opening of my exhibition, “The Revolution Will Be Painted” in Bushwick in April 2016.
AS: You have just had an exhibition and performance,“Tales” of Eminent Domain in Chelsea. You describe the show as a flash exhibition of feminist art. What is the genesis of this show and how is your work there related to feminism?
Anne Sherwood Pundyk: I was reunited last summer with several performance artists I admire through my inclusion in EMINENT DOMAIN, an exhibition and performance program, which evolved out of Art 511 Magazine’s recent partnership with the Manchester, UK-based Alexandra Arts. Katie Cercone, aka, High Prieztass Or Nah, curated the group of over 90 international radical feminist artists who came together for this three-day event in the former Robert Miller Gallery in Chelsea. Themes addressed in the work included challenging traditional standards of beauty and societal constructs around gender roles and sexuality, protesting body shaming and its worst outcome honor killing, supporting queer agency, and delving into gender and racial bias in the art world. During the exhibition I met several new inspiring artists including Lotte Karlsen, artist and founding director of Alexandra Arts, and Kelly Shaw Willman.
I exhibited one large painting, “Triquetra,” (2018) one small work on paper, “Ring” (2018) and performed “Tales” on opening night. In our current society, women are considered in many ways to be too much. We think too much. We feel too much. We talk too much. We demand too much. As part of my painting process, I specifically consider all the ways that I might be expected to accommodate for my excesses. I consciously choose to embrace and celebrate them. I work big as a way to not be ignored or at least make it damn hard not to avert your eyes. Ironically, the painting Katie selected was rejected as too big for the exhibition space.
If I couldn’t hang my painting, I would wear it martyr-style. I led a processional performance during the opening wearing a 12 x 15 foot cape-like painting and read from my collection of fictional fables based on stories about family patterns that are inspired by my abstract paintings. The long history of women being deprived of gallery wall space, especially those working on a large scale, was the inspiration for my performance. (Happily, as the exhibition was being installed I was notified that there was in fact a prime spot available for “Triquetra” in an airy front gallery. I was able to show both paintings and do my performance. I did a second reading of“Tales” in the gallery in front of my painting the next day.) Built into the experience of participating in the exhibition was an enactment of assertion, bias, protest, and celebration.
AS: You are also a prolific art critic and writer. How does your writing inform your art and vice versa?
Anne Sherwood Pundyk: My art criticism allows me to thoughtfully consider the work of other artists. It has also become a bridge not only to ideas but also to communities of artists I might not otherwise have known. It some cases it has introduced me to artists I have subsequently worked or shown with. Not only is writing a good discipline to practice, but through my research I have learned about art history, philosophy and the sciences. However, I am writing as an artist, so I want to bring that perspective to my readers as well. I have contributed to artcritical, Brooklyn Rail, ArtUS, Hyperallergic, Art in America, ART21 Magazine, Slutist, Hamptons Art Hub, Art511 Magazine, Hysteria and was co-editor of Girls Against God.
I am continuing my work on a collection of short fables,“Tales.” For my fiction there are parallels with my painting process. I gather notes on experiences, recollections, or ideas that resonate in the same way that a visual phrase might attract my attention as I paint. Over many months, I sift through these ideas looking for ways to combine, expand and edit them. As figuration has slipped out of my visual work, the craft of writing allows me to create character portraits, landscapes and craft moments of drama. As I complete the writing, I envision the fables paired with my abstract paintings.This format connects back to my Grandmother’s illustrations for early readers.
AS: What are you working on now?
Anne Sherwood Pundyk: I am just reaching my stride with the blue-based “Brain Cake” body of large-scale paintings and will continue in this vein through the winter. The related works on paper are becoming more improvisational, so I’m excited to see what will happen with them. Curiously, I am drawn back to a group of small blue and white figurative watercolors on paper from several years ago. Images from archival family video footage present source material I would like to explore.
Bridget Eklin and I are planning a second iteration of our video and painting installation “Worlds Within Worlds.” I am looking for locations and opportunities to interactively incorporate dance, music and writing with an exhibition of the new “Brain Cake” paintings. I would also like to show together several of my bodies of works on paper and photographs.
For my writing, I have notes for a second group of “Tales” and will begin to design the layout for their publication in book form. For my art critical writing, I am always looking for shows that peek my interest and plan to write several reviews in the coming year. As an extension of this, I would like to find a regular forum for critical dialogue on the East End.