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Spencer Purinton: Split Infinity

Historic Arkansas Museum - Monday, July 13, 2020

by Jessica Corder, Assistant Curator 

From July 10th through December 31st, HAM’s Second Floor Gallery will feature Split Infinity, a collection of paintings by artist Spencer Purinton. Purinton creates flatly painted abstractions on square and circular panels juxtaposed by layers of dynamic visual movement. He pulls graphic references from a variety of sources, including French and American comics, Japanese anime, cartoons, and the Pop Art movement. These familiar images inspire forms of Purinton’s own invention and are transformed through cropping, collage, and color selections. By referencing recognizable styles, Spencer devises accessible images that invite viewers to dig through the layers to find their own meaning. When displayed as a collection, each painting is transformed by the paintings that accompany it, producing a fantastical narrative that plays out from image to image.


Daedalus’ Lament



When the meaning of an image is not immediately apparent, its title can provide insight into possible interpretations. For example, Daedalus’ Lament conjures the tragic Greek tale of Daedalus, who crafted wings made of wax and feathers for himself and his son, Icarus. Icarus ultimately flew too close to the sun, melted his wings, and plummeted into the ocean, where he drowned. While this painting isn’t a literal representation of the death of Icarus, it might allude to the turmoil of the event. The dark form seems to be engulfing the fluid teal shape, while the pastel surroundings reach in and pull back. This ebb and flow mirrors the motion of waves, visible in the lower left corner. The rest of the shapes are less discernable than the waves but none the less rhythmically mesmerizing, as Purinton uses delicately painted lines and carefully chosen colors to heighten visual interest.

Peripatetic Terrene



In Peripatetic Terrene, the simplified geometric forms and minimal color palette produce a serene sensation unlike the layered, turbulent images in the rest of the exhibit. The bold, flat shadows and crisp lines feel orderly and satisfying. Within this image, broad red shapes have fractured like fault lines, revealing an inky void that is possibly the night, possibly an infinite nothing. Whether the pieces are falling or floating is open to interpretation, and this uncertainty builds tension. Purple shapes flutter diagonally across the picture plane, adding more movement and inspiring more questions. What are these shapes – fragments, feathers, leaves? Where did they come from? Like all of Spencer Purinton’s works, the more you investigate, the more you have to contemplate.

 

Our Infinite Tomorrow


Our Infinite Tomorrow is layered with ambiguous forms that reveal a world of interpretive possibilities. Orange shapes stand out against dark tones and purples, with winding silhouettes that seem to suggest stylized smoke. Gray shapes with sharp, jagged edges jut upward and seem violent in contrast to the

rounded edges throughout the painting, invoking the crash of water on rocks or a shock wave from a mysterious (and no doubt catastrophic) impact. Like Daedalus’ Lament, the dark shape feels heavy and intrusive against the brighter colors. Lines spread out in every direction, creating visual chaos. However, the title reassuringly implies that despite whatever is occurring, this is not the end.

Spencer Purinton intentionally uses unexpected color combinations and layered compositions to shift the emotional tone of each painting. While his design decisions can push your interpretation in a certain direction, what you see and the narratives you create are ultimately determined by your own psychology. The three paintings explored here are only a fraction of the physical exhibit on display in HAM’s Second Floor Gallery; we hope you will visit Spencer Purinton’s intricate works at the museum and enjoy the playful experience of interpreting his images for yourself!