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  • Deb Puretz

Art in the time of isolation (2020)

This pandemic comes after I’ve reached my 66th birthday. In a recognition that I am vulnerable by age alone, I have taken the time for self-reflection and assessment of my art over the last 30 years. The art I have shown to museums is cerebral, measured, innovative but not vulgar, crass, or Goya-esque in its bleakness. Neither have I show curators my Kandinski poured art with swoops and hollers punctuated by teardrops, quarter notes, and bird poop hitting the windshield.

The collage I have worked on over the last four weeks reflects my age, my art history knowledge, my experience in the world, my loves, and my commitment to saving fragile and increasingly rare artifacts.

The works use my drawings from over 30 years, but also the 1895 Encyclopedia Britannica, a 1892 Ladies Home Journal, a high school yearbook from Riverside, California and a 1897 French yearbook detailing grocery expenses day by day. A decade ago, I would have neatly trimmed the fraying edges of the pages of those materials: now in respect for their audacious survival, I leave their edges as they are – torn, decaying, and—showing their age.

I received several family albums from a Swiss friend whose own offspring discarded them. In them I find portraits of matrons, cherubs, dandies, marriages, funerals, Alpine walking sojourns and her accompanying songbook dated 1912. I speculate on their experiences, their times of distress, their occasions of great joy, and I resuscitate their lives in my art. I scavenge through the best of them hoping to find the “best” spot for them in my collage. Or is it “our” collage, mine and the people in the photographs? Matisse cut shapes from store-bought paper. Paul Klee and Georges Braque repurposed discarded cardboard. My own pen and ink drawings and watercolors, artbooks, photos, my semiconductor prints, and handwritten letters and other documents all reflect my ‘eye’, my hand, my heart.

This is my most recent and perhaps last foray into arte povera, a claim I’ve made throughout my art years, for working with whatever was at hand, as well as my magnum opus. With this, I will have completed my portfolio of works that survive me. I wish more of them were in locked museum drawers for exhibition at some future date, because I am enriched by music and art from an earlier time. While I understand that some art does not age well and deserves to be de-accessioned (I learned that in my printmaking courses at San Francisco Art Institute) I am confident mine will speak for this place and this time.

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