Michelle L. Purvis

Portland, Oregon

“I use materials beyond acrylic paint such as charcoal, thread, paper, and fabric, creating symbolic context between the material and the subject.”

About Me

Everyday I think about the negative impact man has on the earth. My interest in sustainability reveals itself in my paintings through the unlikely combination of over-sized human forms, especially hands, and delicate trees. They aren’t merely juxtaposed, but woven together, inseparable. This combination tells two stories. One is the unavoidable truth of the power man is able to wield over nature. The other is the vital connection between humans and nature, and our responsibility to protect, support and replenish this gift we’ve been given.

Since 2005, while my work has evolved, it has always addressed the fundamental values of sustainability, emphasizing ecological importance over economic. Over the last ten years I have experimented with other materials beyond acrylic paint, both to challenge myself as well as to push the boundaries of traditional painting. These include charcoal, graphite and water-based pastels and, more recently, thread and fabric. The latter creates a connection to memory, home and nurturing, and compels the viewer to get closer and examine the unexpected added depth and texture.

My latest body of work begins with painting colorful layers of acrylic paint and gesso onto canvas, creating a smooth surface for details to stand out. My palette consists of six primary colors and an abundance of white. After completing the background, I use soft charcoal or graphite to sketch out figurative landscapes. The first layer of paint involves watered-down acrylic over the drawing, leaving behind faint lines that form my composition. After building layers of paint, I add graphite, charcoal, pastel or thread to define key areas. For finishing, I seal each piece with a matte fixative, and frame canvases with raw maple wood.

I transport my audience to a dreamlike world where the familiar becomes strange and the boundaries between reality and imagination are blurred. The combination of over-sized human forms and delicate trees is an important reminder of our duty to protect.

Examples of My Work

Fun Facts

  • Walkabout- When I was 18 I walked and camped from Astoria to Tillamok in three weeks.
  • Crazy Job- For two years when I lived in Florida I worked at a company called Rainbow Art and Design, mass producing acrylic paintings.
  • Home- I’ve lived in 27 different houses in my life before I bought my house when I was 28.
  • Driving- In Idaho you can start driving at 15 by yourself. The minute I turned 15 I talked my mom into teaching me to drive so I could go get her groceries! It worked.
  • Vehicles- I like classic cars. My first car was a 1973 Dodge Duster which I regrettably wrecked. My favorite car that I regret selling was my VW Vanagon.

More About Me

What do you wish you could tell your younger artist self?

The ideas you think are the craziest are the ideas you should pursue. Don’t make art to please other people.

What other non-artist jobs have you had?

For 10 years I maintained apartment complexes while owing my art business in Portland. I can sheetrock, tile, remodel a kitchen or bathroom. I have been a full time artist since 2013.

What one (art) item can you not do or go without?

Coffee, I love coffee! And paint would be my art item. I am a painter through and through! I have dabble in so many mediums and always make my way back to paint and canvas.