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Artist/Naturalist Pages

Charla Puryear


"When I am in the woods, or at the water's edge, away from the crowds, in nature, I feel connected to my own naturalness.  I feel quiet like a tree. I feel like the air, as the wind blows through me, and I become one with nature.  Suddenly, I am the tree that has  grown from beneath a boulder, or the rock that basks in the sun.  My soul is fed, my senses are awakened and I am transformed...all I have to do is get there.”

Charla Puryear is a painter and sculptor whose primary interest is natural textures, especially the surfaces of rocks. Her strategy is frottage. The tall painting on the left, Cascade (click to enlarge), is the extraordinary child of rubbing the rock shown below.


A Gallery of Charla Puryear

(click paintings to enlarge)

photo of beech tree bark
Cheesecoat rock rubbed for Birth
Blooming Rock
rock rubbed for Blooming Rock

A Dance With Time
Rock rubbed for A Dance With Time
Desert Floor
Source of the Soul
rock rubbed for Source of the Soul
Eye of the Storm
rock rubbed for Eye of the Storm
Spirit Dance
island roots rubbed for Spirit Dance
rock rubbed to become Waterfalls
source rock for Waterstories
Freedom, sculpture in basswood, winner, Pollock-Krasner Award
Twist, sculpture in clay, winner, Pollock-Krasner Award

Puryear's Frottage Technique

Working outdoors, I wrap canvas around a rock or tree. I apply paint to the canvas and then, by rubbing, I transfer the image of the surface texture onto the canvas. This image provides the sketch for my painting, which is completed in my studio.This painting process is my way of documenting nature, partnering with it, amplifying its voice and sharing it with others.

In Her Own Words

I go into nature to begin my paintings.  I read the surfaces of rocks and trees as if they were scrolls from distant cousins whose kinship has been all but forgotten. The paintings that result are imbued with natural themes and imagery that integrate with our human sense of self.

My paintings are a kind of road map to early insights. I would ride my bike in Rock Creek National Park in Washington, D.C., sit by the creek and let the soothing sights and sounds comfort me and renew my spirit.  I am grateful to the trees and rocks that gave me this gift.  Frottage is my way of honoring them by amplifying the voices of the landscape.

Mostly, though, I was drawn to and inspired by Mother Nature’s power.  She wields the forces of earth, wind, water and fire.  She hooked me into her and I haven’t let go.

Frottage, the act of composing images by rubbing directly on a surface, is how all my paintings begin.  I begin each work by listening to my subject as best I can. Camping on a small Island in the Adirondack Mountains, I couldn’t help noticing how the tree roots rose up out of the shallow soil, in what seemed to be a search for more of the meager earth.  The roots made a crisscross cage for the island rock and I wanted to capture this slow frenzy on canvas.”  That canvas became Spirit Dance.

I wrap my subjects in canvas and rub their surfaces, applying and removing paint repeatedly, sometimes over days and weeks.  The canvas for Light in the Forest remained wrapped around a tree for nine days in heavy rains.  To be able to work large and use my whole arm to apply paint is exhilarating.  Frottage is very physical.  It takes a lot of effort to transfer the image of the texture.  This image provides the sketch for the painting to come.

Back in the studio, I study each sketch over time. With some paintings, nature’s message is immediately clear. With others, I study the sketch for years.  Then I paint.

I attended the National Cathedral School for Girls, in Washington, DC.  In my senior year, as local public schools were losing their art programs to funding cuts, I created a project to teach art in the schools.

From Cathedral I went to Brown University to earn my BA in Art, and while in Providence also studied at the Rhode Island School of Design. As a senior at Brown I spent a semester abroad at the Temple University/Tyler College of Art in Rome, Italy.  I earned my Masters degree from Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, NY.

If we are going to survive

If we, as human beings, are going to survive, we must begin to take better care of the Earth. We must lose the arrogance that keeps us separate from nature, allowing us to abuse our planet.  And when society learns to consider nature as kindred and source, people will be inspired to nurture and protect the natural environment from which we have all emerged.

My most important intentions and commitments are to promote the care of the Earth by helping people connect with the Earth; to spread the joy that I feel when I experience the beauty, comedy, love and the extraordinary in nature; to make art that people love and to help people love the art that is inherent in nature.


Note: In 2004, Charla won a Pollock-Krasner award, and in 2005 was selected to speak at the Brooklyn Museum of Art on the topic “Diversity in the Arts.”Charla has shown her work in many group and solo exhibitions, including the National Academy of Design, New York, NY, the Fassbender Gallery, Chicago, IL, the M Hanks Gallery, Santa Monica, CA and the Brand Art Galleries, Glendale, CA.  Her solo shows include exhibitions at the Central Park Arsenal Gallery and the June Kelly Gallery, New York, NY. She has taught frottage at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico and other venues.

Visit Charla Puryear's website here

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