Pictured Above: “The Garden,” one of a series of prints from the book “The Garden,” a series of richly colored prints and dreamlike stories.

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

It’s a subject she’s explored often in her work for decades, especially after she read philosopher Emmanuel Kant’s Third Critique in a class on aesthetics at The New School decades ago. It’s a work that she keeps returning to for inspiration.

“How do we make a judgement of beauty? Each individual has a right to your own feelings, a right to your own experience and to have your voice be heard,” she said at an April 6 gallery talk on “Finding Art in Generational Trauma” accompanying her exhibition, “Beauty Out of Bounds,” on view across East End Arts’ two Riverhead galleries through May 5.

Joining her at the talk was filmmaker Mary Hanlon, whom Ms. Pundyk met at the New School. The two artists share both a fascination with the accomplishments of matriarchs in their families and an ongoing exploration in their art of how ripples of traumatic experiences reverberate throughout a family. Their works stand out by their focus not on individual traumatic events, but instead on the universality of the social structures that arise in response to those events, and on the beauty of the journey toward healing. 

Mary Hanlon (l) and Anne Sherwood Pundyk (r) at their April 6 gallery talk.

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

Central to her exhibition is “The Garden,” a book of dreamlike semi-autobiographical stories and accompanying richly colored prints and geometric shapes representing family members and ideas as they interact with one another.

In many ways, it’s a conversation with her grandmother, accomplished 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 the heart and acknowledge secrets,” she said. 

The colors in her works are directly associated with her feelings — blue for her is a comforting color, while red represents a heartbeat, and “life coming back.” Circles that merge and diverge throughout the series of prints represent distinct identities of family members, while zig-zag bolts 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 as she finds the language to express that emotion in words.

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

Ms. Hanlon’s film, “The Mirrored Road,” also examines patterns handed down through generations. The project began to coalesce after a family member gave her a trove of Super 8 film of her great-grandmother, happy in her second marriage, after a lifetime of struggles and secrets that include being a teenage runaway from a job in the kitchen at a lumber mill in Nova Scotia to work assembling the detonator for the atom bomb.

She said of family stories — “some are true. Some are a protection from the truth. And most are a bit of both.”

The movies, she said, show fragmented moments, missing a narrative, but they also seemed to be a sort of “protective magic,” portraying idyllic scenes but not the hardships. 

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

In fact, these family secrets can manifest themselves in chronic physical ailments, said Ms. Pundyk, sharing her favorite books that help people walk through recovery, 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 avenue for the process of recovery, and in part that’s because when it is shown it becomes a collective experience, as is happening now. 

“If you saw this show just from a visual standpoint, it’s actually uplifting, about healing,” said East End Arts Creative Director Wendy Weiss at the April 6 talk.

The show is on view through May 5 across both East End Arts Galleries at 133 East Main and 11 West Main streets in Riverhead. It includes numerous stunning large works on unstretched canvases, some of which have been stitched together, like a recovery of fragmented ideas. Many are seen through a painted mesh created using a wood frame with a taut geometric pattern of cord, which Ms. Pundyk calls a woven tool, a window that only gives a partial view of the artist’s emotions. 

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

But breakthroughs are frequent, including in a centerpiece of the exhibition, “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 canvases, into a foreground, peaking through a tentative, hopeful shade of yellow.

The title of the piece echoes a line from W.B. Yeats’s apocalyptic “The Second Coming, and from writer Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” chronicling the fracturing of social movements that began in the 1960s.

Said Didion, “The center was not holding.”

Ms. Pundyk believes differently.

“The center will hold,” she said. “We can navigate life and the world. It’s a gifting to the audience, carrying that sense forward…. You find a resilience and strength.”

Anne Sherwood Pundyk, “The Center Will Hold”

There are two more events scheduled 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 p.m. at the 11 West Gallery. 

“Jill and I will delve into our shared belief that art is rooted in personal experience and likewise can impact the audience on a personal level,” said Ms. Pundyk. “In her 30 years as a producer, curator and writer, Jill has always supported the artists’ perspective.” 

The show also teams up with the Rites of Spring Music Festival on Sunday, May 5 at 5 p.m., also at the 11 West Gallery for a program titled “Sounds of Images III,” in which cellist Mariel Roberts will join readers from the North Fork community for a musical interpretation of “The Garden.” 

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

Tickets to that event are $50 and are available at ritesmusic.org

The East End Arts galleries are open Thursdays and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m., Fridays from 2 to 7 p.,m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, email gallery@eastendarts.org

"Account" from "The Garden"
“Account” from “The Garden”

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Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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