“In the abstract works the figures represent the musicality of change, the spirit in existence…”
The March of Time brings together works from iconic Neo-expressionist artist Alan Pearson, created between 1985 and 1995.
Encompassing several distinct series created over this 10 year span, the selection is united through Pearson's exploration of musical figurations in his painting. The repeated, abstract form of the human body is arranged like a musical fugue (the term fugue describes what is widely regarded as the most fully developed approach to repetition and imitative forms in music). The repetition and subtle variations across the figures in the works draw from this spirit of subtle change; through repetition, Pearson mirrors the experience of the individual as viewed within the collective of humanity, a device to further the artist’s larger metaphysical themes of life and death.
Over the suite of works, a hugely diverse and varied set of influences are incorporated. From landscape elements (“the muted misty green of Otago Harbour”); through to film imagery (in particular “All quiet on the Western Front” where the film credits are “superimposed over scores of men marching in a single line, they’re dead and each one turns back, looking around for the last time … the individual disappearing into infinity, the vanishing point”.); and back to the Renaissance (Giotto’s angels in the Arena Chapel, Padua).
Highly emotional, figuratively expressionistic Pearson’s works explore the struggle inherent in the human condition; life and death, symbolized by the motif of the crucifixion, recurring, varied and emphatic.
About the Artist
Neo-Expressionist Alan Pearson has become one of the defining figures of New Zealand art history. In spite of his strident individualism and idiosyncratic values, which have provided a source of motivation throughout his career, his uniquely expressive and insightful work has brought him well-deserved attention and acclaim.
As with many Expressionist artists, the metaphysical and the intangible are important subjects for Pearson. The articulation of complex, esoteric ideas through painting is central to his practice. Incorporating both figurative and abstract works, Pearson’s paintings may be seen as the crystallisation of a soul whom biographer Denys Trussell describes as “restless, questing, Faustian”. The end result is a symphonic representation of the human condition where passions, fears and feelings are evoked in each brushstroke.
It is unsurprising that Pearson’s paintings evoke the grandeur and complexity of a symphony, given the great value placed on music by the artist. The epic scale and drama of opera, in particular, seem to motivate his richly detailed, monumental abstract works. The painted surface can be read as a literal evocation of 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. Like music, Pearson’s forms retain shape for an instant, but are under a state of perpetual transformation. In this way the expressionist painter conjures traces of meaning, in a sequence of bravuristic colours, movements and impressions.
Alongside his Abstract Expressionist works, Pearson has created portraiture throughout his career in a similarly expressive style. He approaches these paintings with the same depth of feeling and emotional insight as with his abstract works; they are poignant expressions of individual personalities. His 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. This 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.
Throughout his career and across his different subjects, Pearson has remained committed to the depiction of the metaphysical, using his own circumstance and psyche as 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 and seen him achieve great acclaim. 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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