Doom Towns out 30th September 2016

DOOM TOWNS: THE PEOPLE & LANDSCAPES OF ATOMIC TESTING - A GRAPHIC HISTORY

BY ANDREW G. KIRK & ILLUSTRATED BY KRISTIAN PURCELL


PUBLISHED BY OXFORD
UNIVERSITY PRESS


OUT 30 SEPTEMBER 2016. PRE-ORDER


  
"THIS BOOK IS A BEAUTIFUL OBJECT AND A PROFOUND TOOL. KIRK'S GRAPHIC HISTORY OF THE NEVADA NUCLEAR TEST SITE OFFERS A SINGULAR VISION THAT COULD ONLY GROW FROM HIS IMMERSIVE DECADE-LONG COLLABORATION WITH ONE PLACE, ITS PEOPLE, AND CONTEXTS. PAYING CAREFUL ATTENTION TO ORAL HISTORIES, NATURE, AND VISUAL CULTURE, KIRK EXPOSES ONCE OBSCURED COLD WAR SPACES TO THE STARK CLARITY OF DESERT LIGHT. PURCELL'S ILLUSTRATIONS HELP TO DEVELOP THE POWERFUL SENSE OF EMPATHY THAT IS AT THE CORE OF THIS BOOK. DOOM TOWNS PROVIDES A CRUCIAL NEW WAY TO UNDERSTAND THE LEGACY OF THE COLD WAR AND THE ATOMIC WEST--AND OF DOING HISTORY THROUGH STORIES THAT COME ALIVE IN YOUR HANDS."

JEFFREY C. SANDERS, WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY

December 2014: Eastern Approaches

Two of my portrait works are currently on display at the Eastern Approaches exhibition, at the UH Galleries, Musuem of St. Albans. UH Galleries' annual open submission exhibition Eastern Approaches has established itself as the definitive regional showcase for artistic talent. Last year's event attracted over 100 submissions and first prize was awarded to Katie Aggett.

Open to artists living, working or studying in the Eastern region (Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk) and alumni of the University of Hertfordshire. I was one of 6 artists connected to Bedford Creative Arts exhibited in the show.

Prints Available

I've now got a small run of A3 prints available of The Lacemaker, May Queen, and R34 at Mineola - all at £15. They're available directly from me by email. If there is any other work you'd like to see made into a print please let me know.

Already available - 

Calutron Girls A3 - £15
War Ends A4 - £10
Mannequins in the Lounge - A3 - 15
Nevada Test Study 8 - A3 - £15

art@kristianpurcell.com



History Paintings at St. Peters Church Bedford 8-29 November


All of the work in this exhibition is the product of living and working with collections of photographic images. The paintings are attempts to explore my relationship with those images and develop my understanding of them. The subjects come form my working life over the past few years, which has involved researching for exhibitions and the redevelopment of The Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford, and the illustration of a Graphic History book on the history of the Nevada Test Site.

Nevada Paintings
In 2007 I came across the book 100 Suns by Michael Light of archive images of atomic testing in the desert and at sea carried out by the US. It was suggested to me that the colourful images of explosions could be a subject for painting, but I was drawn instead to the images of people sitting watching these tests in shorts, shirts, desert boots, and a pair of thick back goggles. I had to try drawing these, and completed about half a dozen pictures on this theme. I posted them on my blog and moved on to subjects closer to home, painting my friends and local situations. In 2011, Andy Kirk, history professor in Las Vegas, Nevada, contacted me about using some of those testing images in a lecture. A year later he got in touch again to ask if I would be interested in working on a book on the history of the test site.





We are now in the middle of producing that book which will be published by Oxford University Press in 2015. That has meant that I have spent many hours looking at and drawing from archive photographs from all aspects of atomic testing, but the ones of people watching still had the strongest lure as painting subjects, alongside the surreal 'Doomtown' images of houses and mannequins that were placed at distance from the detonation to analyse the effects of atomic explosions on domestic materials. In 2013 I had an exhibition of my 'Test Site Studies' at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas.




Bedford Paintings

My work researching and curating displays at The Higgins introduced me to the fantastic resource of social history photographs within the collection and also some of those held by the record office, BLARS. Initially I was taken by the photographs of airships that I encountered while working on the R100 & R101 exhibition in 2010 and the painting of R34 at New York dates from that time.

Later, as the redevelopment of The Higgins was under way I researched many different areas as I helped the team develop new displays. I loved the photographic collections and would spend my time exploring them looking for images of collectors or old Bedford. Some images would jump out at me, such as The May Queen, which ended up becoming a painting exhibited at the Royal Academy this summer (not on display here), and The Lacemaker (before she married the collector of folk songs), both painted in 2013. I didn't know much about these images but the process of painting is a process of developed looking and can inform in other ways. Knowing the name of the subject only tells one so much, and when confronted with these images we instinctively explore them for meaning. The Lacemaker is based on a photo from the 1950s of a woman who, still alive today, is involved with lace making, and the photograph accompanied other donations to the Higgins collections.

The pictures in the exhibition are mostly to do with the R101 disaster, the R34 – the first airship to cross the Atlantic – which flew from Cardington in 1919, and there are two pictures dating from the First World War, of those I know the names, and would love to know the stories of those people. For me these paintings explore the distance between those times and now, and the unknowable in every image: what happened immediately before, or after? What were they thinking? How were they feeling? Were that married couple in The Wedding Portrait separated by the horrors in the trenches?


The May Queen exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Show

Standing under my work in the
Small Weston Room at the RA.
I've been painting for some years, but have rarely exhibited outside of Bedford, mostly because my work has zig-zagged across different styles and subjects while I explore painting, and what it is I want to do with it. 

I haven't really answered that question yet, but I have managed to get work displayed outside of my hometown twice now this year. Firstly, I had a display of my work at the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas which relates to the work I'm doing on Plumbob 57  - more on that in a later post - and now my painting The May Queen (From Henman's Magic Lantern Show) has been selected to exhibit at the RA. Here's a picture of me looking chuffed, just after I realised it had sold (like many others in the room) before the exhibition had opened.

The work itself is based on a lantern slide from the Higgins Art Gallery & Museum's collection. The slide is one of a number showing traditional May Day celebrations in Bedford circa 1911.
Kristian Purcell The May Queen (From Henman'sMagic Lantern Show), 2013.

The making of the Musical Creativities cover painting

Pam Burnard, Musical Creativities
in Practice
, OUP, 2012


Last November I was contacted by Pamela Burnard. She had seen Leah Kardos' Feather Hammer album cover and felt that it would be fantastic to have a piece of original commissioned artwork as the front cover for her forthcoming book Musical Creativities in Practice.


I was really excited about the project, knowing a little something of the book through conversations with Leah, who I had recorded music and collaborated with for some years (with the Helzuki EP Little Bits of Nothing the main result).


The artwork the publishers, Oxford University Press, in mid-December so I had to work quickly, first by getting an understanding of the book through several phone calls, where Pam's energy and enthusiasm for the subject really across strongly, and then by digesting large chunks of the draft book emailed over in PDF.


Leah Kardos, Feather Hammer,
 Bigo and Twigetti, 2011
Previous commissions have been a more emotional and subconscious response to a work, whereas this needed a more robust, intellectual process to bring it together. Part of the practice of painting in oils, for me, is the differentiating between the communicative possibilities of alternative styles and methods: for this piece I needed to combine a number of approaches together in a single image. 


The different elements that were devised through several painted studies (see below) , some starting with specific ideas, some more improvisatory. I found quite quickly that the image would need a central motif around which I could hang the different painting styles, something representational and detailed as another methodology alongside the painterly mark making and abstract geometric forms that had immediately suggested themselves in my early drafts. 


I found the perfect setting in Vermeer’s painting The Music Lesson, or rather it’s bottom left hand corner. It seemed thematically appropriate and stripped of its characters and harpsichord was able to provide an illusionistic sense of space that could then be broken by the flat shapes and mark making. 


The process of putting all the ideas together on the final canvas suggested further ideas, as painting always should, revealing new things during its creation. The surrealist falling away of space as the tile floor reaches the foreground was one, the raw canvas revealed in between painted forms another. 


While the image contains references to painting movements and my own various paint handling methods, one specific artist I had in mind was Tom Phillips. Phillips is also a composer and taught Brian Eno art at Ipswich in the early sixties and his early work in particular engaged with music - we have a drawing entitled Studies for Music, 1968, at the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery where I work as a curatorial assistant. The of the lines and small patches of colour in the top right are inspired by his work. As those lines move across to the left and mingle with the pink paint marks (a nod to the Feather Hammer cover that got me this commission)  becoming an obscured musical staff, I had in mind the photograph in the book of Liza Lim writing notation with lots of quick pen marks. In the painting they have become something different, a creative response to her marks rather than mimicking them.

The final cover painting is my interpretation of a visual representation of the multiple practices of musical creativities discussed in this book. By drawing parallels with the multiple practices within the creation of painted artworks I hope the painting can do an appropriate job of setting the scene for the books themes. Hopefully, all these elements add up to a suitable creative response to Pam’s work, and I thank her again for thinking of me and inviting me to challenge myself and my creative practicve in this way. I get the feeling that’s what she does best.


Here's a video that nicely introduces the book's content.




The draft studies for Musical Creativities:



Study for Musical Creativities II, 2011
Study for Musical Creativities I, 2011
Studies for Musical Creativities III, 2011