Self-described as “old beatnik” paintings, these works recently on view by Jack Pierson draw on a unique and distinctly American combinations of the occult in nature and surrealism. Pierson has been at the beach before, most famously with his Self-Portrait series of photographs, which you can see here, of hot young men in various stages of undress. In contrast, these new paintings are abstract little things, not at all flashy, perhaps more physically immediate than the photographs. There’s no human visage to call attention to itself. Washing and tangling easily into each other, the colors and shapes are forms from nature with a quick and come-as-you-are feel. I’m not sure which I like better, each painting on its own or in composite serial form. When seen all together at the gallery and then re-viewed and re-considered at home, it’s the shift back and forth between the two modes of presentation that make the entire show work as a piece. Looking at the full view of the catalogue here, I can see now many weeks after my visit to the gallery that what drew my more immediate attention were the brighter, more sun-lit images.
“The new body of work is comprised of small watercolor and graphite works on paper, paintings and driftwood assemblages, made while in a self-imposed retreat on the island of North Captiva, on Florida’s gulf coast, from December to March, of the past year. Much like the artist’s well known work and installations of the last twenty-five years, these pieces are component in nature, existing as discrete pieces or as grids and rows, documenting a walkabout at once both cosmic and interior.
For the past several years in an effort to “get back to the hand” Pierson has been practicing “automatic drawing” a technique of the Surrealists made famous by André Masson. It was also an occultist pastime of the milieu surrounding Alla Nazimova, the silent film director and star of 1920s Hollywood. Pierson first exhibited his drawings around this subject in 2012 in Belgium as part of an exhibition entitled Jesus and Nazimova.
“As queer as it sounds,” Pierson remarks, “It’s just like my brain dancing on paper. I’m adding a new layer by calling them ‘Anagogic Paintings’. That comes from Jung, I believe, but I picked it up reading Michael McClure and Emerson while on the island. At the core, these are—after all, the paintings of an old beatnik.”
All men are in some degree impressed by the face of the world; some men even to delight. This love of beauty is Taste… The creation of beauty is Art. The production of a work of art throws a light upon the mystery of humanity… although the works of nature are innumerable and all different, the result or the expression of them all is similar and single. Nature is a sea of forms radically alike and even unique… Nothing is quite beautiful alone; nothing but is beautiful in the whole. A single object is only so far beautiful as it suggests this universal grace… Thus is Art a nature passed through the alembic of man. – From the essay “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1836.