Rebecca Purdum, Ripton 77, 2008, 16 x 16 nches, oil on board
My first encounter with the work of Rebecca Purdum was her first show at Jack Tilton in 1986 -- when Tilton had just recently taken over the charged 57th Street space after the death of Betty Parsons. Thinking now about that show, it is easy to conjure the sensation of entering, in that mid-'80s climate, the first show of a very young painter who was already deeply tapped into an elemental engagement with the painting process and tradition -- who was not playing strategy games or asserting a stance, but making the most direct and substantial paintings I had seen in a long time. She painted lush darkly colorful abstract works with her hands on a huge scale -- paintings that were powerfully moving and instantly venerable. A few years later, in what seemed like utter disregard for her "career", she relocated to Vermont, where she still resides. During the past almost 25 years she has shown rarely and exclusively with Jack Tilton (not a bad gig) while forging her way deeper and deeper into an encompassing symbiosis with her process, and with painting as an entity. Remarkably, the longer she lives in the country, the tougher her paintings get. The sensate clouds of swirling color that characterized those earliest pieces have evolved into stark undulating fields of raw sensation -- pure paint and surface -- ecstatic touch.
The Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College will be presenting, from September 29 - October 25, what looks to be a Rebecca Purdum mini-retrospective that highlights some of the toughest early works and is heavy on large recent work. From the catalogue I just received, this looks like a knock-out show of haunting enigmatic paintings that confirm Rebecca as a singular and important (still young) painter who has sustained a rare depth and focus over a quarter century.