Variations on theFigure focuses on iconic artist Alan Pearson's explorations of figurative form through his neo-expressionist painting. Incorporating new paintings together with earlier, never-before-exhibited pieces from the studio archive, the show demonstrates the unique expression and insight which has made Pearson a defining figure of New Zealand art history.
Throughout his career, Pearson’s virtuosic figurative works – which traverse abstraction through to expressionistic realism – have brought him well-deserved attention and acclaim.
The figure is also the subject of major abstract works from Pearson, which often demonstrate the artist’s evocation of music; the epic scale and drama of a symphony motivating his richly detailed, monumental abstract works. Traces of figurative forms within the work retain shape for an instant, but are under a state of perpetual transformation. Many works (such as Katherine Gorge, Northern Territory I) suggest music, dance and rhythm in the way paint is applied in bold over-lapping strokes, sometimes grid-like and sometimes free and expressive, but always with an underlying sense of tempo.
Pearson’s figurative portraits possess a similarly expressive style while placing the figure under sharper scrutiny. He approaches these paintings with the same depth of feeling and emotional insight as his abstract works; they are poignant expressions of individual personalities. Pearson’s technical mastery enables him to communicate a great deal through his painting with brushwork, colour, setting and composition all adjusted to heighten the individuality of each subject. In works like Fiona Faces Mortality deliberate individualism creates emotional complexity, with great focus placed on the expression of the inner life of the subject; the paintings represent the sitter’s psyche, rather than merely their physical characteristics.
It is in Pearson’s studies of the figure in its various modes, across his long career, that his commitment to depicting the metaphysical is the most apparent. Using his own circumstances – and often himself as the subject of critical portraits – the artist’s psyche has remained the prime motivator in his work. His sincerity, understanding and openness create an intensity of emotion, a surfeit of energy and a density of ideas that few other artists are capable of expressing.
This pursuit of self-expression has fuelled Pearson’s practice and seen him progressively become one of New Zealand’s most highly regarded painters. He is represented in many important public and private collections and is the subject of several publications. Ultimately, he is celebrated for his willingness to confront critical issues in his art—mortality, anxiety, love—with an unrivalled confidence, intellect and technical mastery.
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