By Molly M. ’17
Philip Pearlstein: Seventy-Five Years of Painting. A leg half my height. The flickering of a grin. Messy hair. Stretches of skin, reaching into the foreground. We were greeted by figures, larger than life. Despite the unrealistic size, Mr. Pearlstein’s subjects maintain forms which depict the beautiful imperfections of mankind. His realistic figures are not prettier than life, but are exactly as a mirror would report. The respect and technique given to each subject spells out a love which will reach any individual for their flaws, not in spite of them.
The figures interact with their surroundings and are portrayed in an unconventional way. In school, we are told always to find a new perspective. Having a figure, whose body shows character and emotion, with the head cut off by the edge of the canvas, demonstrates exactly what we have been told since our youth. The eccentric props and twisted postures only help underline the fact that character is seen through more than beauty, words, and actions. A character is seen through their movements, their surroundings, and the physical wear their lives have inflicted.
Thinking conventionally, and thinking through idealized filters of life, is not the center of art. Art is an expression of anything which grabs you. And Mr. Pearlstein avoids the disconnection many figure drawers create when posing a rigid doll-like human, whose stretch marks, crooked teeth, and uneven composites of fat have been smoothly painted over.
I have been told before that the best thing about art is how it tests audiences for reactions; and seeing a new way to expose mankind through their figures certainly tests audiences. We were lucky to be allowed a day from school to visit the Susquehanna Art Museum, to explore the lives painted before us. But then we were handed charcoal darker than a raven and a model who walked lightly on his toes and we were told to contribute. With sheets of paper about the size of my torso, we started attempting to catch the flow of our model’s movements. We were told to follow the energy of his poses, and to recreate that first. Once there, we can move on to make his energy fit into the shape of a body.
I found with each stroke from my shoulder onto the page, my understanding of defining movements and human dispositions and small corners of life began to connect themselves. My drawing style shifted that day for the better.
Moving on from the drawing, we were given the honor to meet Mr. Pearlstein himself. He spoke of his life, the very niches which drove him, and how his understanding of history has influenced his work. He spoke of dimensions, and I realized there’s more there than could ever be verbalized. Everyone took something different out of his spiel. What I took from it required I go back to staring at his paintings: people reflect on their own lives through their artwork, and Mr. Pearlstein reflected more than could ever be fully understood by anyone other than himself. The best we can do is use his art to further impact our lives, to contribute when we next reflect onto a piece of newsprint the size of my torso with chalk darker than a raven.
This blog was written by Academy senior, Molly M. ’17. Molly and all Academy Upper School art students attended Mr. Pearlstein’s program at the Susquehanna Art Museum on Feb. 10, 2017. Learn more about Harrisburg Academy on our school website.