BERNICE PURDY
symbolism, allegory and myth
Born in Lockhartville, Nova Scotia
Resides in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Bernice’s art has generally been created out of a fascinated observation of the human condition, and from life’s emotional paradoxical situations including the real and imagined.

In 1975 she had a breakthrough in painting when, in great anger, she painted a situation of herself and her two young children while living in poverty in Halifax, Nova Scotia. For the first time she discovered the ability to put emotion and colour together. From there she began to explore other situations that moved her emotionally, some concerning living as a single parent, some involving other people’s relationships.

It was then she realized she wanted to work with humour, paradox and symbolism. She also found that she relived the emotions while painting them, so she began to play with ideas and social situations, finding that colour has the power to charge things emotionally and ideas will expand and develop as the painting takes on a life of its own. Another influence on Bernice's art was her many years of an ongoing and serious spiritual search and study of old and new religions, ancient myths, symbolism and various occult and spiritual paths, some of which she has actually pursued.

Some things that have come out of this search are the will and insight for her art to proceed in a more positive way including the use of satire, playfulness and love, and a deeper access to her imagination. For example, she began painting at a deeper level with “Fat Ladies with Cakes” at the beginning of the 1990s after reading “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolfe. Her point was to portray these women as symbols working through society’s message that we should gorge on junk food and at the same time stay thin.

In 1977 when her work was shown and acquired by Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, she was dubbed a “social statement artist”, not a folk artist, although she is self-taught, aside from several years of life drawing and an ongoing study of art history. Each new piece must incorporate some new combination of elements, something odd or paradoxical that excites her imagination and sense of humour. Then she finds the piece works when as in dance she experiences the rhythm and joy of painting.

As her work matures it is headed in the direction of more freedom and a greater use of symbolism and imagination, giving the viewer more open-ended questions to contemplate. These questions and reflections involve the rules that govern and shape our society. Bernice feels she was born into the tradition of figure painting and has a kind of spiritual mission to explore and expose our collective human condition. Through getting in touch with the heart-centre and the symbolic she discovers our infinite complexity of what it means to be human.

Bernice’s favourite painters are Stephen Lochner, Giovanni Bellinni, Cranach the Elder, Hogarth, Angelica Kaufman, Henri Rousseau, Leonora Carrington, Paul Delveaux.
Burning Ritual, 1991
oil on canvas
30" x 32"