“Lauren Purje’s Fertile Graphomania”
-by Ed McCormack
Not too long ago, at least in the gallery scene, the kind of drawing that originated in cartoons and comic strips, was merely something for Pop artists, particularly early Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Ronnie Cutrone, to parody for some supposedly higher artistic purpose. That kind of work was invariably an object of, if not naked scorn, the mere irony that has run rampant since Andy painted his first soup can. But in recent seasons, a younger generation of artists who take cartoon style seriously for its honest expressive possibilities has begun breaking down the barriers between so-called “High” and “low” art and showing up not only in galleries but in museum surveys as well: Raymond Pettibon, who worked his way up from concert poster graphics and album cover illustrations for the punk band Black Flag to international Art Star without significantly changing his style; Zak Smith, whose graphic novel-influenced drawings inspired by Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” have made their way into shows at both the Whitney and the MoMA; and Dame Darcy, widely known here and abroad for both her comic books and her paintings— to name just four.
Now we can add to that short list of crossover talents the name of Lauren Purje. A former student and protege of leading contemporary Social Realist Robert Cenedella, she recently had a splendid solo gallery exhibition at Emoa Space in Chelsea. Purje’s work, however , both her drawings and her paintings, first caught the public eye on her website series “End Of The Line” (laurenpurje.com), to which she has committed herself to contributing “a drawing a day.”
Some of Purje’s work features cute cartoon characters that strike one as “Peanuts with an edge,” as seen in one macabre drawing of a skeleton holding out an hour glass with sand trickling down to a grim-faced little boy in a coonskin cap, captioned “HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOHN, Enjoy Every Second, Love Lauren.” (This was a birthday greeting to a friend, but obviously too good not to be shared!) Another is an uncaptioned drawing of a little boy drawn in the same simple linear style, but beset by giant insects in a more realistic, detailed manner as beautifully delineated as an etching by Durer. Yet another (perhaps a comment on abstract art with which her mentor Cenedella would no doubt agree!) depicts three monkeys collaborating on the same large abstract painting.
The figures in Lauren Purje’s paintings are similar to those in her line drawings, but more worked up in color in a manner that can be compared to the Japanese Pop painting style “kawaii” or “supercute,” influenced by cuddly big-eyed anime characters, which has made its way from Tokyo to the New York punk scene by way of the East Village’s sizable Japanese youth population. In Purje’s paintings, however, these cute cartoon figures are often placed in atmospheric landscape settings with dramatic, almost Turneresque cloud formations, as seen in her scene showing a little girl solemnly watching a flock of crows picking over the bones of a skeleton half buried in the sand on a desert. In another painting by Purje, several children riding merry-go-round horses and sleds are awash in a thickly painted sea, suggesting a vibrant contemporary synthesis of Hokasai’s ukiyo-e masterpiece “The Wave” and Turner’s most tumultuous marine scenes. In yet another, a little girl sits on a boulder wistfully watching while other children appear to be drowning in churlish waters amid large, fang-baring fish.
Combining a graphic vision as macabre as that of Edward Gorey with formidable painterly gifts, Lauren Purje is a uniquely gifted young contender in the contemporary art scene whose progress will be well worth following, not only in future gallery exhibitions, but on her constantly evolving web site as well.
-by Ed McCormack, Gallery&Studio Magazine, Vol. 16 No. 2 New York. Nov/Dec2013/Jan2014
Ink Is Like Blood! Drawings, Paintings, & Musings by Lauren Purje
Oct 19-26, 2013
Emoa Space Chelsea, New York
530 W25th St, Ste 407
New York, NY 10001
Opening Reception: Oct 19, 2013 6-8pm
Press Release: Lauren Purje is an artist whose work uncomfortably resides between genres. While it’s as accessible as a comic strip, often featuring bubble-headed characters and scrawled humorous text, Purje’s lighthearted surface soon gives way to postmodern themes of woe, agitation and worry. The work leans more toward Samuel Beckett than Charles Schultz, and, unlike much current Manga-inspired art, is frequently too odd to be cute.
Without being overtly political, the visual and verbal “punchlines” in Purje’s paintings are not one-liners, but underscore our anxiety over the future in general and our relationship with environment in particular. She utilizes turbid, Turner-like landscapes as backdrops for her characters who are oblivious to their ominous surroundings.
As a counterpoint to the heavier tones of her finished works, Purje’s drawings and the cartoons she publishes on hyperallergic.com function more as “open diaries.” though marked with her signature irony and contradiction, they evidence Purje’s belief that art should reflect our world and function as a small dose of relief.
Curated by Mark Bieri
Director, Emoa Space Chelsea