With a visual range as tonal as a Gershwin symphony, Pearson paints romance vacillating between hope and despair, people and place, artifice and authenticity, jazz and classical. He pares the synthetic, choreographed tropes of modernity down to rations, to spare poignant depictions.
Pearson’s exhibition Turn Back, Detour, Go On at Winsor Gallery in Vancouver, had either a landscape or societal reference. If landscape, Pearson lent character to the natural. In Knox Mountain Ponderosa Pines, each tree is individualised and made distinct with a gestural shadow. The Road Less Travelled has the words “There was one on the left and another on the right. They looked the same but somehow different”. The two trees in the painting resemble couples. Between them a sinuous road rises flat to the picture surface.
Pearson, while still drawing the black-out curtains so that his luxorious, doting hand is able to fully explore, withholds identity. A well-staged hint of voyeurism leaves the reference point, in the final take, with the viewer. With an insider’s privilege Pearson seems to have caressed the subject leaving room for conjecture as to the back story. The impression of intimacy is not saccharine despite the tinge of romance but it is pervasive, be it tree or human. In Mother and Child, the crows are moody, downed and bereft of cacophony, pecking at leaves within halos of light while the silhouetted figure of a woman holding a baby up to the light in a maternal gesture of wonder, draws focus.
In his series of drawings, Rise and Fall, #03 brings to mind Marianne Faithful’s raspy voiced renditions with the scrawled “oh show us the way to the next whiskey bar”. Scantily clad women cavort in a swirl above what appears to be a men’s social club where half naked escorts take up the slack. Pearson allows what-happens-in-the-bedroom to be drawn out into the open without repercussion, depicting spurious morality, granting room to make judgement calls privately for just as Degas revealed the enticing otherness in the theatricality of artistes and prostitutes, Pearson calls up the fascinating underbelly of adult interaction. A bevy of bordello habituates could be deemed common matter but Pearson’s handling edifies his subject. Without glamourizing, he plumbs the comings and goings of the ersatz and presents it with a lingering compassion. From a culture ruled by technology, Pearson brings forth engaging colourful characters where intrigue is understood, indulged and savoured.
Drawing #10 of Rise and Fall has an orphic shape floating between a woman, compromised in just a bra and garter belt, and a man, past prime, who is addressing her. Like a messy bed or a mistake, the shape overrides the two figures. The woman is voicing lyrics from Moon in Alabama, also sung by Faithful. Since Pearson’s studio is a sequestered aerie overlooking Okanagan Lake, physically far from the implied urban venues that he pictures, the springboard for his unique visuals just may, on occasion, be auditory. Pearson’s reply: “Rise and Fall is a series of drawings illustrating various scenes from Bertolt Brecht’s play “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”; the libretto was written by Kurt Weill– and many of these songs including those from the Three-Penny Opera have been recorded by countless artists including Marianne Faithful.”
The feminine dignity of the statuesque beauty in Tango Dancer with the delicate purposeful placement of her arms – one protectively demure against her stomach – is brought into significance by the man watching with dark circles under his eyes, hands clasped rather than clapping. He appears to be undone, overcome, almost swooning, while the guitar player strums, absorbed and unaffected. Pearson has the ability to capture great feelings, to illuminate the depths. There is respect afforded and allowances made so that tolerance blooms into recognition. Within the simple lines and disciplined palette, the romance of the medium is permitted while still retaining the objectivity necessary to pass on the sensation. Pearson’s style shows his involvement in the process – scrumbles, smudges, handwriting – as his energetic artistic movement stimulates our involvement.
Yet there is also nostalgia for the straight-laced as in the beautiful portrayal Woman in a Green Coat. With her knees demurely touching, her creamy legs and complexion against the dark muted colours of everything else permits her sensuality to dominate.
Pale faced men and women with dark lips, a blond woman in the basic-black, low-cut dress, a standing woman in a short skirt with a leopard print blouse, Latin-looking men in black suits with white shirts, wine glasses, painted finger nails, the lone pine tree, the-road-less-travelled: the people in Pearson’s paintings seem ready. The places seem perfect for trysts. There must have been music playing – jazz, Gershwin, live music in a club, flamenco guitar.
GARY PEARSON TURN BACK, DETOUR, GO ON
Winsor Gallery, Vancouver
September 11—October 11, 2014