Elliot Purse is a talented abstract painter living and working in Sugarlift's former 'hood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. His work, at once powerful and elegant, evokes the rich history of abstraction. We caught up with him and learned about his preferred approach to seeing art on weekends and his unexpected appreciation of medieval painting.
LIVES & WORKS IN Bushwick, Brooklyn
ON THE CLOCK A lot of looking and waiting, followed by a lot of very fast, intuitive sort of working, followed by a lot of looking and waiting. I'll usually listen to the same song (or album) for weeks or even months at a time while working.
YOUR ART WEEKEND I like playing it by ear. There are always a couple shows that I set out diligently to see (recently, the KJM show at the Met Breuer was very influential; Scott Anderson at Denny Gallery was inspiring) but ultimately, I like just stumbling around and seeing what I walk into. Of course, a regular rotation of studio visits with friends is great, too.
ALBUM "Witness" by Modern Life Is War
ARTIST Willem de Kooning
BOOK Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
LATEST PURCHASE Iced Coffee (Black)
GUILTY PLEASURE Putting an inordinate amount of effort into making entertaining Snapchats.
GRADE IN ART CLASS A’s
36 HOURS Space (low orbit)
You came out of a program at the NYAA that is known for figurative and more classical work -- how did this influence your decision to pursue abstraction?
I think the part of me that leaned towards abstraction has always been there.
I don’t think I ever made a completely convincing representational painting in my life; some element always ended up getting flattened out or becoming more of an abstract shape even if everything else was rendered to a high degree of realism. It actually bothers me if one of my paintings or drawings feels too much like a “window” into illusionistic space. Then I have to work to negate it and bring it back to more uncertain visual terrain.
I do consider my work to be “figurative” and “representational.” Most of my favorite abstract work is still figurative in nature and lets you enter it as much through narrative as through the physicality of the piece. Similarly, I also hold the belief that the better I can articulate a model with a pencil, the better I’ll be at executing a more gestural abstract mark later. I still go to figure drawing sessions as much as possible - I joke that it’s my “Yoga.”
Who are some of your biggest influences and if you spent a day in front of a particular artwork, what would it be?
If you look at my work, I would say I’m most recognizably influenced by Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky or Cecily Brown - maybe a little Francis Bacon lurking around. I also find myself extremely drawn to medieval painting. My first stop at the Met is always the medieval section of the European painting wing. I love the ambiguous light sources and how a dark robe can become a really dynamic and unabashed graphic shape. Similarly, I’ve always been attracted to how disjointed medieval paintings can feel between central figures in the foreground and (almost separate) miniature paintings dotting the landscape in the background.
I've also found myself influenced by furniture design. After working part-time at a vintage furniture showroom for the last couple of years, the abstract lines and shapes of different chairs have definitely found their way into some of my own forms.
If I had to spend a day in front of a painting, it would probably be the "Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymus Bosch . I’ve yet to see the painting in person, but I have no doubt I could spend a very long time in front it. It’s just the right amount of carnage, humor, and surrealism.