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“The Center Will Hold”: Art as a message of hope

Vaseline 1 month ago

Pictured above: ‘The Garden’, one of a series of prints from the book ‘The Garden’, a series of richly colored prints and dreamy stories.

Mattituck-based artist and writer Anne Sherwood Pundyk has long been fascinated by the way we define beauty, a subjective process that relies heavily on our cultural expectations.

It’s a topic she’s often explored in her work for decades, especially after reading philosopher Emmanuel Kant’s Third Critique in an aesthetics class at The New School decades ago. It is a work she returns to again and again for inspiration.

“How do we judge beauty? Every individual has the right to their own feelings, to their own experience and to have their voice heard,” she said on April 6 during a gallery lecture on “Finding Art in Generational Trauma” at the exhibition.

She was joined at the lecture by filmmaker Mary Hanlon, who met Ms. Pundyk at the New School. The two artists share both a fascination with the achievements of matriarchs in their families and an ongoing exploration in their art of how ripples of traumatic experiences reverberate through a family. Their works are distinguished by their focus not on individual traumatic events, but on the universality of the social structures that arise in response to those events, and on the beauty of the journey to healing.

Mary Hanlon (l) and Anne Sherwood Pundyk (r) during their gallery lecture on April 6.

“My trigger moment was that a close family member had a traumatic injury, and it caused a dissolution of my family, and I couldn’t understand why that was happening,” Ms. Pundyk said. “The role of secrets in a family is a common dysfunction.”

Central to her exhibition is ‘The Garden’, a series of dreamlike semi-autobiographical stories and accompanying richly colored prints and geometric shapes that represent family members and ideas as they interact.

In many ways it is a conversation with her grandmother, veteran children’s illustrator Mary Sherwood Wright, about the role secrets play in a family.

“I wanted this book to be the opposite of keeping secrets, to connect with feelings and acknowledge the heart and secrets,” she said.

The colors in her works are directly related to her feelings: blue is a comforting color for her, while red represents a heartbeat and ‘life coming back’. Circles that converge and diverge in the series of prints represent the different identities of family members, while zigzag-shaped areas of color represent ideas that emerge and must find a place in the family structure.

As often happens in her process, her visual art is a raw expression of emotion, and her writing follows suit as she finds the language to express that emotion in words.

“It starts with chaos, a mirrored garden, and ends in a utopian place, where trauma is healed,” she said of the series.

Ms. Hanlon’s film, “The Mirrored Road,” also examines patterns passed down from generation to generation. The project began to develop after a relative gave her a treasure trove of Super 8 films from her great-grandmother, who was happy in her second marriage, after a life of struggle and secrets, including running away from a a job in the kitchen at a sawmill in Nova Scotia working on assembling the detonator for the atomic bomb.

She said of family stories, “Some are true. Some are a protection against the truth. And most are a little bit of both.”

The films, she said, show fragmented moments, lacking a narrative, but they also seemed like a kind of “protective magic,” depicting idyllic scenes but not hardship.

“The more I looked, the less I knew,” she said. “Trauma keeps stories from being told, but they don’t just disappear.”

These family secrets can even manifest in chronic physical ailments, Ms. Pundyk said, sharing her favorite books that help people recover, including “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk and “Trauma and Recovery.” by Judith Herman.

The Woven Tools in Anne Sherwood Pundyk’s Mattituck studio.

Art is a powerful tool for the recovery process, and part of that is because when it is displayed, it becomes a collective experience, as is happening now.

“If you just see this show from a visual standpoint, it’s actually uplifting, about healing,” Wendy Weiss, creative director of East End Arts, said at the April 6 lecture.

The show runs through May 5 at both East End Arts Galleries at 133 East Main and 11 West Main Street in Riverhead. It contains numerous stunning large works on unstretched canvases, some of which are stitched together, like a recovery of fragmented ideas. Many are seen through a painted mesh made using a wooden frame with a tight geometric pattern of cord, which Ms. Pundyk calls a woven tool, a window that provides only a partial view of the artist’s emotions.

In one series of photographs, she views her diaries as the mesh, the partially obscured words trapped beyond the viewer’s comprehension.

But breakthroughs occur regularly, including in the exhibition’s centerpiece, ‘The Center Will Hold’, in which a Taoist circle emerges from behind the painted mesh, through a stitched tangle of smoky blue, orange and black cloths, towards the foreground, peaked by a cautious, hopeful shade of yellow.

The title of the piece echoes a line from TS Eliot’s apocalyptic ‘The Second Coming’, and from writer Joan Didion’s ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’, which describes the fractures in social movements that began in the 1960s.

Didion said: “The center could not hold.”

Ms Pundyk thinks differently.

“The center will hold,” she said. “We can navigate through life and the world. It is a gift to the audience that brings out that feeling…. You find resilience and strength.”

Anne Sherwood Pundyk, “The Center Will Hold”

Two more events are planned over the course of the show, including “Art is Personal” with Shelter Island-based art producer and curator Jill Brienza on Saturday, April 27 at 1:00 PM in the 11 West Gallery.

“Jill and I will delve into our shared belief that art is rooted in personal experiences and can also impact audiences on a personal level,” said Ms. Pundyk. “In her thirty years as a producer, curator and writer, Jill has always supported the artist’s perspective.”

The show also partners with the Rites of Spring Music Festival on Sunday, May 5 at 5pm, also in the 11 West Gallery for a program entitled ‘Sounds of Images III’, in which cellist Mariel Roberts joins readers of the North Fork will add. community for a musical interpretation of ‘The Garden’.

“I invited nine North Fork women to be readers for the piece,” the artist said. “My large, colorful abstract, unstretched canvas paintings form the backdrop for the show in East End Arts’ 11 West Gallery. Staged as an immersive, theater-in-the-round experience, Mariel and the readers will move and envelop audiences throughout the one-hour performance.”

Tickets for that event are $50 and are available at

The East End Arts galleries are open on Thursdays and Saturdays from 12pm to 5pm, on Fridays from 2pm to 7pm. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, please email [email protected]

"Bill" by "The garden"
“Account” of “De Tuin”

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