Richard Purdy

6 April 1995 - 13 May 1995
Opening Reception 6 April 1995 8pm

Main Gallery:


Unrestored (1995) consists of an installation of framed oil paintings that appear to be minor eighteenth- or nineteenth-century European works 60 rely in need of conservation and repair. These contemporary works present sly anachronistic disjunctions: they are painted by Purdy in an elaborate scumble and glaze technique and treat conventional Beaux-arts subjects– portraits, still life, landscape…. The crackling, pentimenti, and blushed varnishes that Purdy has created on the surface of the paintings may be seen to be formal elements in the pictorial language, referring to the role of surface and mark in twentieth-century abstract painting. The paintings also evoke the art of forgery, throwing the creative integrity of the artist into playful doubt.

The viewer enters the exhibition on a raised wooden platform above the floor’s reflective covering. The paintings, whose reflections may be clearly seen in the floor, are hung upside down on the walls, complicating the viewer’s ability to decipher their location. The paintings are difficult to position both perceptually and historically. They raise questions about values that underwrite authorship, innovation, and the writing or rewriting of art history–whether fraudulent or not.

Richard Purdy is a Montreal artist whose far-ranging, interdisciplinary “fictions” have taken numerous forms, including installation, film and opera scripts, performance, artist books, and public art. In his work, he adopts the formats and conventions used by science and the humanities in such diverse sites as museum display, academic research papers and atlases. His previous projects have addressed: architecture, The Sacred Circuit (1979); archaeology, Ba Pe (1982); religion, Corpus Christi (1984), biology, Natural Selection (1986); psychiatry, The History of Culture X (1987); history, Progeria Longaevus (1988); cartography, The Inversion of the World (1989); literature, Patiner sur l’oeil (1992); geography, Aux Quatre coins d’une terre (1993); and sexuality, The Tearing of Angels(1994).

Purdy is represented by Galerie Christiane Chassay in Montreal.

Brochure Text: Rhègorique extrémiste

They met in the dark, all eyes and breath, pawing each other’s bodies, sniffing each other’s behinds like dogs.

In Juan’s small apartment on the rue du Cambodge the cries of the neighbours’ babies, the spilling of the street light through the shades, and the drunken mosquitoes hitting the walls, were ignored in the heat of exploration. Every part of Jose opened; it was like the painful twisting of a morning glory, tender and wet, yet requiring pain to unfurl. Everything was in their way. They removed the artifice of clothing, and peeled away words, histories and thoughts. The hairs on the skin created microscopic distances between them, so they shaved each other’s bodies smooth to penetrate deeper. Skin was rubbed, and dead skin rubbed away, rolling off the wet bodies in small grey cocoons.

Juan pressed Jose’s skin as deeply as possible; it turned raw and flushed, rubbing away to the second layer of epidermis. Everything was exciting, every touch and bite opened further. Then, mysteriously and with intensity, Jose began to explore inside Juan’s body. It took an infinite time, but Juan noticed that, piece by piece, he was absorbing Jose: tongue, nose, hands, feet, ears, limbs, legs. At times Juan lost all consciousness of the limits and appendages of his body; he found his partner gone–disappeared–and tugged at a hand which turned out to be his own. Parts of himself disappeared inside himself. It came from every side, a melody of touch. He experienced the sweet ecstasy only known to a fish in the grip of an octopus.

The morning light broke green-blue through the windows. The air was charged with electric smells, while in Juan’s room there were the organic sounds of the collapse of biological cells. Juan was able to roll, his body strangely flexible and rubbery, magnificently sensitive. Juan viewed Jose through shy half-closed eyelashes; they were still joined together. Thirst and hunger washed through Juan. The beautiful stranger smiled, his blue eyes alight. Jose washed and dressed, leaving the apartment and returning with figs and bread.

Over the ecstatic days and nights that followed Juan was aware that he was slowly being turned inside out. The passion, the exploration, the anatomical churning, caused the disappearance of the entire lower half of his body. Jose’s skin was denuded, flushed and transparent as if flayed. They ate little, slimming their lean bodies down with the intensity of their needs. Each lover’s muscles moved harmoniously under the evaporating skin.

Juan could no longer leave his apartment or even walk. He awaited his lover in anticipation as Jose went out to find food for him. Juan found his own body excessively beautiful, bathed as it was in such attention. He had no idea of what the slow exposure of his internal organs on the outside of his body might look like; if it was something repulsive. The inversion of his skeleton created odd new appendages, appendages that responded to the exploring touch of his lover with excitement. Over the days they joined again and again, their bodies becoming one organism–all limits defeated.

Juan was only dimly aware of the moment when his rectum swallowed his head, but sensed it as a joy akin to returning to the womb.

Enclosed in darkness and silence, he was completely dependent upon Jose, a demonstration of trust that he desired with all his soul. Through the tissue and flesh he could feel the new ways in which his body was touched and explored: so many new ways to make love! So many new avenues of pleasure! Jose murmured continually of his adoration of Juan, his limitless desire, his dedication to him for eternity. “What can 1 possibly look like?” wondered Juan, before surrendering again to the searching tongue and fingers of his beloved.

The inner flesh of Juan occupied Jose’s attention when he first madelove with him, reaching in as all lovers do with tongue and fingers. Now all of these secrets were open to him. Jose became obsessed with reaching inside again. Like a warm winter coat, Juan’s inverted body pressed skin surface against skin surface inside his body, a source of unimaginably exquisite erotic pleasure. The memory of this skin, inaccessible for many days, became a new passion for Jose. He would caress the new and responsive organs of Juan’s sexuality, and probe inwards towards the older ones, the ones of childhood. Jose could close his eyes and remember the image of the broad plains of skin on Juan’s back and buttocks; he could visualise the extrusion of a single brown hair protruding through the skin on Juan’s arm. These thoughts would arouse such heights of desire and passion that he thought he would fall to pieces.

Slowly Juan’s incredible body offered up patches of skin to Jose’s lips and eyes. Jose kept reaching in, deeper and deeper, feeling the deserts of warm epidermis rubbing against each other. So much skin! Such quantities of it!

In time, the body offered both inner and outer. “I will die at this!” thought Jose, as again his desire joined him to Juan’s loving body. The emptying of his soul, the million heart attacks of orgasm, the elasticity of sperm–Jose opened a new region, a region long untouched but intimately known. The small, perfect hairs poked through the skin.

How Jose relished these hairs! How exquisite they were! This was, without question, the most intense excitement.

When Juan’s skin popped back into place, he was ravished with hunger. Jose brushed the hairs of Juan’s body with his fingertips while he ate. Juan was happy to observe Jose from a distance, and they participated in voyeuristic games for several days. They were both very happy, transformed by their experience.

In the spring they had to part, as Jose was teaching topology on another continent and had to return to his post. Their sadness was indescribable. Juan’s gift to him at the airport was a white envelope. Shaken and sad, red with fever at the agony of this goodbye, Jose took his seat in the business class of the airplane. His hands opened the letter, but his heart and mind could not leave the image of the tear stained and shattered Juan at the gate.

He slid a small black and white photograph from the envelope. It was a portrait of Juan, fully dressed. “This is the absolute!” cried Jose. Blood splashed the tray-table as his orgasm pulled his body to pieces.

– Richard Purdy