Los Angeles

Nancy Pierson

Ovsey Gallery

Nancy Pierson’s thoroughly peculiar tableaux of middle-aged women suggest, through their eccentric wordless narratives, the tangled webs of female-to-female relations.

The figures in these charcoal works on paper are positioned with an intentional stiltedness. If pushed much further, this quality could come off as conventionally allegorical; as it is, the slight stiffness contributes to the work’s overall oddness. Making use of smudged areas as well as fine cross-hatching, Pierson’s renderings contain a measure of neo-Gothic spookiness, which is quite magnetic. The women in these works look like character actresses, with broad features and big expressive hands. Unlike actresses, however, they seem as unaware of being looked at as children intent on their play. Some wear glasses, and many of the women are shown with their mouths open. One isn’t sure whether their lips are parted because they’re a little slack-jawed at the depicted moment, or because we’ve caught them sighing or talking. The available possibilities imply alternative interlocking scenarios that encourage conjecture.

These ladies are seen from a bit below the waist up, so all that’s revealed to us is their upper halves. Often, they grip each other’s arms, or one wraps an arm around another of their number in a semi-embrace. Equally frequently, one or more of the women peer, with what could be read as solicitious concern. at another woman, who is transfixed by some object in the distance. Hands are held in odd poses, pressed together. In most of the pictures, the women are wearing clothes that are dowdy and out-of-date. Ditto their hairstyles. In Members Of The Guild, Good Wives, and Drain (all works 1991) the women in question are dressed in what look like religious costumes of varying degrees of severity. The quartet in Good Wives appears to be in some kind of trance, holding hands with eyes closed, as though at a seance. Both Chinese Paper and The Crack In The Wall are two-panel drawings. It looks as though a strip of each drawing has been cut off one side and laid adjacent to the other, forming a disconnected diptych.

Pierson’s characters have a substantial, quirky presence that, in part, depends on their agenda, which is apparently wholly outside of any interest in or consciousness of being looked at. They manage to appear both surreal and deeply ordinary. The drawings seem designed for the viewer to engage over a period of some undetermined duration, and they stand up well to the protracted or repeated scrutiny they invite. Maintaining a sense of mystery without being opaque or confounding, these pieces give a strong impression that, though the viewer may not know exactly what the subjects are up to, they are up to something quite specific. This artist has worked her way into strangely fascinating territory, and the more information she decides to bestow upon the viewer about what she is up to, the better, since she has proved herself so adept at piquing and sustaining our curiosity.

Amy Gerstler