rebecca purcell

World Maker

Yearning for the Magpie

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It was Boo who left the objects in the hollow of the tree. Boo, not the mocking bird as I had first thought. Anyway Mockingbirds are not the ones who are associated with collecting shiny objects - Magpies are. Magpies have a legendary reputation of thieving and leaving their booty in the crook or hollow of a tree, so it is not completely surprising I was confused.

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Tiny Conceits

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This is a series of retail pieces I called “Tiny Conceits,” inspired by 18th century, miniature portraits. I felt the title “Tiny Conceit” expressed both the idea of self adoration as well as alluding to perhaps a thinly veiled expose of some royal debacle — a little performance that is an exaggeration.

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A Stumble Into Styling

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Rebecca Purcell Art director and Stylist. Photographer David Meredith

Rebecca Purcell Art director and Stylist. Photographer David Meredith

Let’s see… when was I first introduced to the world of prop styling?

After magazine number 20,458 — full of clothing, accessories, shoes, furniture, objects and sets — I should have realized someone must have been hired to get all of that stuff. But I don’t think I really grasped exactly what prop styling was until I came to New York and met a professional clothing stylist while working at Charivari. Then it was like oh! Now I get it. Up to that point I guess I sort of imagined Steven Meisel was busily building sets, then rushing out to the shops in paint smeared Carharts and fur hat — with Anna, or Franca — picking up clothes for the “girls.”

Rebecca Purcell Art director and Stylist, Photographer David Meredith

Rebecca Purcell Art director and Stylist, Photographer David Meredith

In my defense, the almost ubiquitous look of bewilderment that comes over the faces of those who ask me what I do for a living (outside of New York) is a testament to how oblique a job prop styling is to the majority of the population. Even once it is explained it doesn’t really take. It’s a little like trying to explain Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, or mince meat. Honestly, unless I was there to witness the event myself I would never believe the inordinate amount of time, energy, people, props, equipment, money, Starbucks and bottled water it takes to create an image.

Rebecca Purcell stylist, Photographer David Meredit. This is in an almost derelict building near Hudson NY. The floor was about to cave in just above.

Rebecca Purcell stylist, Photographer David Meredit. This is in an almost derelict building near Hudson NY. The floor was about to cave in just above.

Once I figured out what prop styling was, I knew I was suited for the job. I tucked the idea in my back pocket and carried on with my sales job at Charivari. This was followed by a stumble into home furnishings at ABC Home — where I became the display director — and then finally, after a three year self-imposed sabbatical, I decided to pull the “styling card” from it’s obscure home.

I had recently published Interior Alchemy, this gave me the gravitas to connect with an agent; I knew Anthroplogie had just started a catalog; I knew their aesthetic was in keeping with my own career history and inclinations; I was pretty hopeful in terms of thinking they might hire me… and they did. This basically jump-started my career.

Rebecca Purcell Stylist, Photographer Martyn Thompson

Rebecca Purcell Stylist, Photographer Martyn Thompson

All in all prop styling is a pretty fantastic job. You get paid pretty well, you often get to travel — although propping is not easy in foreign countries, but it is always an adventure.

Sure there are downsides like having to get my own very expensive insurance, not knowing if dates and needs will change last minute and disrupt all my plans, not knowing if I have enough props, not knowing if I have what the client wants, not knowing if I will be hired again, not knowing if there will be a proper bathroom… but on the whole a pretty ideal career for some one inclined toward wandering.

Although I have had several clients, I have worked as a stylist for Anthropologie longer, and more often, than any other company. Always interested in what is new, they still maintain a distinct connection to the Past-Present aesthetic. Anthropologie’s overall look encompasses an extremely wide and varied range of styles and this means, as a stylist, I get to explore many themes and have been sent down many diverse roads. I have hooshed a bed in the surf at low tide, rowed props to a house on stilts in a bay, and haggled a Jaipur, street vendor for his dirty plastic bucket and stool.

Rebecca Purcell Stylist, Photographer David Meredith

Rebecca Purcell Stylist, Photographer David Meredith

Rebecca Purcell Stylist, Photographer Diego Uchitel

Rebecca Purcell Stylist, Photographer Diego Uchitel

I have been in mansions, derelict schools, houses filled with dogs, houses filled with cats, flea markets in Argentina, fortresses and palaces in India, and once I created an immense medieval style banquet while rushing to finish before the setting sun, under a canopy while it rained, on a lawn overlooking the mountains in Jamaica.

Rebecca Purcell/Abby Walton Stylist, Photographer David Meredith

Rebecca Purcell/Abby Walton Stylist, Photographer David Meredith

On the more peculiar end, I have taped a scarf on a squealing pig (well… Abby Walton my fantastic assistant did, but I had to watch and feel bad for her). Heather Greene and I had to figure out how to make a fountain in 20 minutes, out of a teapot, a hose, and cups and saucers.

Rebecca Purcell/Heather Greene Stylist, Photographer David Meredith

Rebecca Purcell/Heather Greene Stylist, Photographer David Meredith

The best part of styling, for me, is not the shopping, as some would suppose. What I love is the mercurial and ephemeral qualities of creating a set — a moment — for a brief space of time and then it disappears, like a mushroom emerging briefly from the loam. 

I walk into an empty house or studio, and with the help of a slew of talented assistants who drag in, prep, and organize truck loads of equipment and stuff, some how a little space is created, an alchemical workshop. An image appears on the screen of a quiet, sunlit, cozy room or a table-top in mid preparation for an evenings dinner.

Thirty seconds later it is saved by the digital tech for potentially well… ever. It’s simply well… magic.

Rebecca Purcell Stylist, Photographer David Meredith

Rebecca Purcell Stylist, Photographer David Meredith

Rebecca Purcell Stylist, Photographer David Meredith

Rebecca Purcell Stylist, Photographer David Meredith

 

 

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Interior Alchemy

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1995-1998

All images Gross and Daly

Interior Alchemy was published in 1998, and featured seven spaces that uniquely brought the past into the present. I think the book was a little before the curve on this aesthetic — it was another ten years before it attracted any attention — but it was a satisfying experience and it helped jump-start my career in styling, so nothing really to fuss over. I had several objectives for the book: imbed an aspect of my art practice by featuring nine esoterically defined interior styles; champion the idea that style was not dependant on finances and “taste” in a classical sense; showcase some incredible spaces featuring a Past-Present aesthetic; and highlight the word “hoosh.” 

Rebecca Purcell Art director and Stylist, Photographer Gross and Daley

Rebecca Purcell Art director and Stylist, Photographer Gross and Daley

I managed all of this except for the art practice aspect, it was considered a bit too esoteric by the publisher, although the idea of highly disparate styles still came through.

Rebecca Purcell Art director and Stylist, Photographer Gross and Daley

Rebecca Purcell Art director and Stylist, Photographer Gross and Daley

Another objective was to work with Sue Gross and Steve Daly. Old Houses had recently been published and it was a book I found revelatory.

Photographer Gross and Daley

Photographer Gross and Daley

I had been working with Paulette Cole at A.B.C. for several years, exploring the Past-Present realm of patina and weather but at the time Old Houses appeared, I had never seen an entire interiors book devoted to the ravages of time, and the exquisite complex layering that only neglect and weather can create. 

Photographer Gross and Daley

Photographer Gross and Daley

The past revisited in the present has always been evident in home décor, but it was the visual inclusion of its deconstruction that was not only ground breaking but also psychologically left of field. One just didn’t shoot an historical interiors book that featured homes that were a mess, let alone falling apart with dirt, dust and debris gathered in the corners! 

Old Houses was the first — that I had seen anyway — to document this intersection of nature and a domestic setting, a declining that was simultaneously emerging as something “other.” 

Photographer Gross and Daley

Photographer Gross and Daley

So it was the brave and cutting edge duo of “Steve and Sue” I wanted to shoot the images for my book as I planned on highlighting a few messes of my own. To my utter joy and amazement they agreed.

Rebecca Purcell Archive - Photographer Gross and Daley

Rebecca Purcell Archive - Photographer Gross and Daley

I am so grateful we had the opportunity to document the spaces in Interior Alchemy as most no longer exist. The remarkable Tribeca loft of J. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion (Expedition chapter) was dismantled shortly after publication, but not before they hosted a private martini auction with only three bidders allowed: Mark, Bob Braine and Alexis Rockman. As the guests became increasingly inebriated and vociferous, the three participants parceled out a large collection of taxidermy birds… a night to remember for the eccentric rarity of the event as well as a vodka fueled battle over a stuffed puffin that almost turned violent – no doubt the first battle of its kind. 

Rebecca Purcell Archive - Photographer Gross and Daley

Rebecca Purcell Archive - Photographer Gross and Daley

Jeffrey Jenkins home (Simple) has been thoroughly overrun by his mounting collections (and my increasing infiltration – I live with him).

Rebecca Purcell Stylist - Photographer Gross and Daley

Rebecca Purcell Stylist - Photographer Gross and Daley

The dense, oriental-gothic apartment (Exotic), of my brother and sister William Bryan and Mary, has morphed several times since these images were taken and now is a far more quiet, albeit toy-ridden home, to Mary and my niece Cira. 

My own apartment (Alienated) has turned into what I refer to as “Hotel de Lyon” — hybrid, disheveled French via the American flea. 

And the afternoon folly Morgan and I created from a chicken coop for “Humble“ appropriately drifted away with the wind and weather.

Rebecca Purcell/J. Morgan Puett Stylist - Photographer Gross and Daley

Rebecca Purcell/J. Morgan Puett Stylist - Photographer Gross and Daley

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Heterogeneous

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Trying to choose a career — a path in life — has not been an easy endeavor. It has been such a torture at times that, for the most part, I let life choose for me. I have been attracted to literally hundreds of interests — the map of my future resembling fishing net that stretches to the moon.

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Path Through the weeds

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Some are born at the foot of a straight and narrow road. Perhaps bitten early by the angel of clarity, perhaps handed the gift of a singular focus, they proceed directly forward through life, rarely straying from their trajectory towards a known destination. This game is not for these happy few.

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Slave to the Muse

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I am someone who harbors a good dose of both skepticism and fantasy. I would never suggest that you believe there is an actual muse who resides either in or out of your thoughts. However I would never suggest there wasn’t. Instead I suggest that you pretend there is regardless.

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Nine Dynamics of Style

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The process of World-making requires certain ingredients if it is going to be a World that attracts outside attention and staying power. Even if one is not interested in longevity or attraction, cohesive World-making is a rewarding, perhaps even revealing, exercise. It can also be an illuminating and entertaining game when used to dissect other worlds.

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Lauren Minoogian

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The Minoogian Portraits were interwoven with Organon 9 Worlds, an elaborate nine-part matrix that attempts to coalesce specific, aesthetic styles into a series of phases in creative production.

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Labour Portraits at Mildred's Lane

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Jaquel Theis: Land Steward; Jeffrey Jenkins Photographer

Jaquel Theis: Land Steward; Jeffrey Jenkins Photographer

I had the honor and privilege of being involved in the art direction and styling of a series of 12 labor portraits in collaboration with J. Morgan Puett, Jeffrey Jenkins, Natalie Wilkin, and an incredible group of resident fellows and participants who made invaluable contributions both physically and conceptually.

Elizabeth Crawford & Isobel Lister: Ministry of Comfort; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Elizabeth Crawford & Isobel Lister: Ministry of Comfort; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

The portraits reflected the various labor practices employed at Mildred's Lane referred to as "Workstyles." 

Grey Rabbit Puett: Fire Master; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Grey Rabbit Puett: Fire Master; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Cheryl Edwards: Digestion Choreographer; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Cheryl Edwards: Digestion Choreographer; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Paul Bartow: Master of Applied Complexity; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Paul Bartow: Master of Applied Complexity; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Rebecca Purcell: Master Hooshress; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Rebecca Purcell: Master Hooshress; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Each portrait depicted a specific titled practice and included: materials indigenous to Morgan Puett history and Mildred's Lane; a changeable architecture loosely influenced by Crivelli Paintings; elements of 18th C. labor portraits; props reflecting the "workstyle;" and aspects of the sitter's personality.

J. Morgan Puett: Ambassador of Entanglements; Jeffrey Jenkins Photographer

J. Morgan Puett: Ambassador of Entanglements; Jeffrey Jenkins Photographer

The women's outfits — "Apparatuses" —were designed by J. Morgan Puett and constructed in sections that button together to create a variety of garments. 

Jeffrey Jenkins: Minister of Serial Materialism; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Jeffrey Jenkins: Minister of Serial Materialism; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Natalie Wilkin: Ambassador of Trans Historical Agency; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Natalie Wilkin: Ambassador of Trans Historical Agency; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Mark Dion: Cabinet Minister Peregrinator; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Mark Dion: Cabinet Minister Peregrinator; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Clayton Lewis: Officer of Complexity; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Clayton Lewis: Officer of Complexity; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Interstitchiaries; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

Interstitchiaries; Photographer Jeffrey Jenkins

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First Test of Head Apparatus for Portrait Project

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Several years in concept - I finally started work on a collection of head pieces for my portrait project.

They are reversible; neutrals on one side, black pallet on the other.

For this first trial run I began with a variety of library embellishments in keeping with the #11 persona from Organon 9 Worlds.

Creating a headpiece that combines Victoreana, Geisha, and Italian folk costume. 

And an outfit I cobbled together in 20 minutes...

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A Taste of Honey

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I recently spent two days in my studio under the blissful tutelage of pure desire.

The result was a collection of ovals, each made from some small scrap of weathered fabric, cardboard, and either a felt or paper backing.

It wasn't long before the list of connections started: A way to honor bits of fabric; Ideal hoosh items for overhead shots; blank portraits of self — the oval - my trademark; Esoteric  — the amygdala/third eye/philosopher's stone/egg/crucible of life/perfection - Art objects kind of.

I know I will return

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Rent Dress Collaboration

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Recent collaboration with J. Morgan Puett and the Mildred's Lane Complexity

After digging around in morgan's archive, we came across a vintage slip that struck both Morgan and I as being unusually appealing.

Morgan worked on having the body of the slip reinvented, using antique cotton organdy, while I assembled bodices, using one of a kind lace and crochet appliques, from my library of gathered materials.

Final four dresses available on Morgan's site

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First Overhead Hoosh

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I finally started styling my own images! (Final image at end of post)

Last month Jeffrey and I set up a cramped studio in our living room, between the daybed and the coffee table. I pulled a large selection of items from my object library and spent the day placing and arranging.

The image is a test run, a combination of the opening sequence from "

To Kill a Mockingbird"

and John Derian.

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Second Overhead Hoosh

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Second attempt at personal home hooshing.

Testing out ideas for section openers, a frontispiece, possibly for inclusion with my card deck, or maybe just another way to create a hoosh.

I refer to this as a Rorschach style hoosh

This particular style of arranging is so close to a game I played as a child called "Dudes" that I felt myself regressing in age as I assembled the pieces. My hands felt as if they were child hands.

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