Presenting the history of American Art as seen through the eyes of Provincetown

Polly Burnell



Burnell's intimate color-saturated expressionist landscapes possess the power of Alice's magic keyhole. We are delectably drawn through Burnell's painted portals into subtly surreal landscapes that Burnell has called "little places to escape into." Her friend and co-exhibitor in this exhibition Donald Beal says: "Burnell's paintings are like peering into a mysterious, intimate dream."

Burnell's work emerges through a tremendous sensitivity to all of nature. "Whether I want to or not, I have these feelings about the spirit in plants and animals, about the landscape being alive." "My paintings are mined, never invented," she explains. "I re-work the same elements over and over." Burnell has created a vocabulary of vibrant forms and shapes in a particularly American modernist style. Her body of work contributes to the evolution of an indigenous American Modernist style, and shows influences of Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove, in particular. Her paintings are simultaneously mysterious and accessible, simple and complex, re-inventing European Surrealism's tendency toward the menacing (de Chirico), or even, twisted (Dali).

Small in scale (8 x 10"), Burnell's paintings invoke contemplation and reflection, a deeper look into remembrances of things past, present and future. As Burnell believes, "time isn't linear. It's a giant sphere." Her re-occurring horse, for example, is "the primary actor/being; nothing is ever just an object," and her shadows "are always like another person. I start with an animal. God knows what happens after that. I never have a fixed narrative. The story evolves by itself. I complete the form first and then the story fills in... My work is affected by the world-wide wars and struggles. It's important to make beautiful things now."

Burnell has lived and worked in Provincetown more than 20 years, receiving a Fellowship at FAWC in 1993-94, and a two-person exhibition at PAAM shortly thereafter with Irene Lipton, curated by Donald Beal. She has served on the Provincetown Historic Commission in many capacities over the years.