New York

Philip Pearlstein

Finch College Museum Of Art

Philip Pearlstein’s drawings have the same iconography as his paintings, Roman landscapes in the second half of the ’50s and nudes after 1960. There is a difference between them, however, which may have to do with the fact that the surfaces of drawings include areas untouched by hand whereas in paintings, as a rule, everything has been entered as a decision by the artist, the “empty” background no less than the foreground. There is a full surface in Pearlstein’s paintings that is not present in the drawings. Without the rich two-dimensionality of the painting, the drawings reveal Pearlstein as something of a Mannerist. This term has taken a beating in the last ten years: it has been applied to Stella and to Warhol, neither of whom appears to be in any relationship to the 16th century at all. Still Pearlstein’s figures can be compared to Mannerist figures. Specifically he goes in for elaborate contraposto and abrupt foreshortenings. As a result, his figures combine a massive substantiality with an inventory of elisions. As the models corkscrew dizzily and are seen at sharp angles, buttock and breast, knee and shoulder abut. And at any moment the models can lose their head, hands, or feet. Occasional specific parallels to the 16th century present themselves, such as the protracted solid volumes, following the picture plane, of Venus in Bronzino’s The Allegory of Luxury (National Gallery, London) or the muscular headless nude in the foreground of Rosso’s Moses and the Daughters of Jethro (Uffizi). If I am right Pearlstein’s single and paired nudes, then, sometimes resemble the poses of figures within Mannerist compositions.

It became clear from looking at the drawings that Pearlstein draws as much for compositional reasons as anything else. He does not study anatomy with any especial precision in the drawings, but considers conjunctions and sequences of forms. The fact that he works from the model is not, in itself, proof of his naturalism. You can draw like Raphael or like Brueghel from nature; it depends what you want. What the artist perceives is not a neutral pageant of true forms, but a stylistically filtered selection. And what the model seems to do for Pearlstein in his drawings is provide him with the facticity of her presence, so that his Mannerist sense of dramatic posture can incorporate external data. He has noted that “when painting, my forms tend to grow larger as I work on them,” but the drawings state pretty clearly the same procrustean notion of composition found in the paintings. As Meyer Schapiro has pointed out in another context, “the frame belongs . . . to the space of the observer rather than to the illusory three-dimensional world disclosed within and behind.” Thus the tough interception of whole forms by the edge of the picture implies an extended field of which the image is only a sample. In the drawings the collision of whole forms and partial segments of the field of perception is seen without the compensating formality of his paintings. Hence, the willed nature of the conjunction is itself Mannerist in its open artificiality. Something like the corporeality of Courbet and the space of Degas are conjoined.

––Lawrence Alloway