December 2007 Issue presents...
The Artist's Role in the Community
by Charla Puryear
Inspiration from nature
When I was a kid, about 12 years old, so that would have been 1970, I would often ride my bike through Rock Creek Park.  For those of you who may not know, Rock Creek Park is a park that runs through the city of Washington, D.C., where I grew up.  And for those of you still doing the math, I'm 49 years old.
Inside the Park there is a bike trail that runs from upper northwest Washington all the way to lower southwest Washington,  so I could ride the whole length of the city and back.  I had a black three-speed English Racer, and I can remember a sense of urgency as I pedaled down Alaska Avenue, where I lived, made a left turn onto 16th. Street, battled the traffic for three blocks until I could made that right turn onto Sherrill Drive, which snaked down into the woods.  Immediately I experienced a sense of connection and harmony with nature.  All I had to do was get there.

Mother Nature as a role model
Another thing I liked about nature was Mother Nature.  In a culture short on positive role models for women, Mother Nature became an inspiration for me.  She uses her tools-fire, water, earth and air to orchestrate all natural phenomena.  That's powerful.  And it's pretty sexy, too.

My beginnings as an artist
Even before I became aware of my attraction to nature, I was aware of my attraction to art.  I was the kid who always volunteered for the craft committee; I was often the last one to leave art class; and I would get annoyed with the kids who saw art classs as an opportunity to misbehave and cause a disruption.  I always took it very seriously.  I focused on art while at the National Cathedral School for Girls;  I majored in Art at Brown University; I took classes at the Rhode Island School of Design; I studied printmaking in Rome, Italy in Temple University's Abroad Program and I received a Masters Degree from Pratt Institute in New York.

Beginning of technique
So for a long time, I had these dual interests, art and nature, and one day in 1994, I found a way to unite them using a technique called frottage.  Frottage is french for "to rub" and I apply it to my paintings.  Frottage is also a lot easier seen than explained, so I've prepared a video to introduce my painting process.  After rubbing, I make a sketch and add my interpretations and experience to complete the painting.  I will also document, in writing, the process of making the painting.

Recording the experience
For each painting I create, I record the experience of the process. I've put together a book of paintings, with the photograph of the natural object and the accompanying text from the experience. I do this because I always learn something in the process.

In every case, although the finished painting may appear abstract, its foundation reflects the rules of nature.  The surface of a tree and the texture of a rock--fossils, cracks, folds and erosion for example--expose stories of environment, relationships and time.  So, in that sense, it is not abstract.

Let me first say that I never wanted to belong to a community, or if I did, I lost the desire early on. If it involved a name tag, I didn't want a part of it.  But now, for the first time in my life, I am proud to belong to a community known as artists/naturalists.  Georgia O'keefe, Henry Thoreau, and Ansel Adams are other artist/naturalists.  An artist/naturalist is an artist whose deep connection with nature is expressed through their art. 
I feel a sense of oneness with the Earth and all of its components.  The textures of the earth touch, move and inspire me.  The varieties, the intricacies, the color, and line reflect genius.  When I see a beautiful natural color palette, or texture, or pattern, I feel lucky to be alive and I say a prayer that expresses my desire to create just a semblance of that beauty to enjoy and to share.  I have a particular love of rocks.  The have been here a very long time and I value their longevity.  Through my paintings, I hope to give people a way to renew and enhance their innate connection with the power and beauty of  Earth.
In closing, I would like to share this quote with you from Thomas Moore, who writes in his book "
Care of the Soul: "... a piece  of the sky and a chunk of the earth lie lodged in the heart of every human being, and if we are to care for that heart we will have to know the sky and the earth as well."-Charla Puryear, "The Artist's Role in the Community"  December 1, 2007 presentation at ARTPEACE Gallery.