On ViewRonald Feldman Gallery
April 27 – June 8, 2019
At the heart of Bruce Pearson’s latest exhibition, Shadow Language, is the dozen ambitious three-dimensional paintings of chiseled Styrofoam on panel that are instantly recognizable as his. In these recent paintings, the artist continues to steadfastly explore terrain that has preoccupied him for at least two decades. What he shows us is what might constitute a painting now, within a contemporary culture logged into perpetual overload in constant transition, which he both leans into and resists.
It’s Pearson’s first solo show in six years (his seventh at the gallery) and well worth the wait. The paintings, or rather, the reliefs on view—they are both painting and sculptural—mostly use acrylic, and are moderate to large in scale, although their potency makes them all seem equivalent in presence. Made during the past three years, they are arguably some of his best to date—taut, dense, substantial, more assured and expansive than ever in the handling of color. Their surfaces are a tour de force and elaborated with sustained bravura, the Styrofoam characteristically broken up into intricately layered, irregularly configured channels or countless little geometric cells. The latter patterning is seen to dazzling effect in Not to Interrupt Your Beautiful Moment (2018), one of the show’s several highlights. While Albers’s color theory is referred to, the crevices also suggest an updated approximation of cloisonné, each cloison inlaid with a hue, cradling its brilliant color like a jewel. The juxtapositions of myriad small daubs of paint function a bit like pointillism’s dots, adding sparkle and animation through calculated juxtapositions of color and light, optical sensations dependent upon the eye to reconcile. Not to Interrupt Your Beautiful Moment, for instance, appears to be primarily yellow verging toward orange, composed from many different shadings of those colors, while a wide selection of interspersed violets, greens, blues, and greys, add to the richness. The carefully modulated text embedded into the design and helpfully included in the title—both signature devices—flashes in and out of visibility, depending upon the position of the viewer and the ambient light. When reproduced, the words are even more elusive and may not appear at all, or merely as an outline or shadow. These are works that need to be seen in proximity.
Other showstoppers are Encyclopedia 6, (Vital Questions Searching for Motivations Far Too Many Other Places) and Encyclopedia 7 (Understated Complexities Chaotic Upheavals Getting a Perilous Truth), both from 2017-2018, are part of a long-running series. The phrases are extracted from the New York Times while the illustrations taken from Diderot’s encyclopedia and other historical compendiums. News and history—past and present—are intermingled, as text and image become abstract, unclear, more complicated, their unreliability and subjectivity underscored. Pearson often takes his text from the Times and television talk shows among other mass media sources, as well as from the fortuitously encountered.
Fear of Death Hope of Heaven Trip to Disney (2018) is a handsome, deep blue-black and white work that has a photographic image of what is believed to be the Virgin Mary’s last house outside of Ephesus. With that in mind, the text emblazoned across it makes sense, equating pilgrimages to religious shrines with trips to theme parks. Disney comes across clearly, in big letters that look punched across the bottom of the work. These are rebuses to revel in, playing with slippages in seeing and language, the gnomic phrases profound, poetic or nonsensical, banal—you decide—as the visual and verbal meld together with a flourish, only to challenge you to take them apart.
Two other works of note are Code Breaker (2018), part of his “Spirituality” series and replete with esoteric symbols, and Piece of Mind (Please your Cells to Obey Your Android Keep Pressing) (2019), the phrase contributed by poet Mónica de la Torre. Both reliefs are painted in shades of white, although the latter is also tinged with pale blues, the patterns in both delicately lyrical, rococo. And A Fresh Pair of Eyes (2019) is dominated by a splash of bright red, and looks like a bracing, expressive abstraction, although it is tightly controlled, as all of his endeavors are.
With them are a number of works on paper that are complementary, presenting similar imagery. Another grouping includes digital and inkjet prints that were made in collaboration with eminent poets Claudia Rankine and Anselm Berrigan and photographer Zack Garlitos who respectively contributed verses and images. The wavering letters are clearly readable, in a handmade script that looks as if it is illuminated, starred, the light shifting across it.
Pearson’s mixing of image and text, of abstraction and representation, his experimentation with materials and media are part of the many pleasures his work offers as it swings between mind and matter. However, Shadow Language could also be praised for its visual gratification, for the unexpectedly voluptuous transformation of its unlikely matter that, for a moment, eclipses mind.