From the balcony, Alan Pearson at the opera represents a selection of paintings and drawings made during Alan Pearson’s sojourn in southern Italy and London in the 1980s. The opera series was exhibited in New Zealand in 1986-87 after which they were placed in storage. In London Pearson ventured into the Royal Opera house, Covent Garden to draw the interior. For him to unite his two loves, painting and opera, was ideal subject matter. In England and Italy Pearson re-visited beloved painters from the Baroque and Rococo periods, those influences, combined with his natural vibrant Expressionism, inspire this series of bravura paintings.
Baroque Exit,with its ‘exit’ sign at the bottom edge refers to Pearson’s Auckland drawings made at Huia. For him, the rhythm of the Ti-trees formed a natural chorus line and ‘exit’ signified that where there is life there is also death.Baroque Exit alsoreveals Pearson’s love of El Greco and the painterly, upward surging rhythm in this work characterizes much of the subsequent theatre paintings, such as the Baroque theatre (Christchurch Art Gallery) andin this exhibition, Teatro bella figura andCovent Garden.
Pearson animates the empty arena focusing on the proscenium, stage and balconies, using the stage as a vortex to describe profound space. He inhabits them with imagined performers, orchestra and audience all in vivid colour and energetic activity. In Covent Garden from the Gods figures swirl towards cosmic space, entranced with the ecstasy of musical perfection.
Gold, red and indigo in Covent Garden balcony reflect the luxe décor of the opera house while others exhibit the cool, grey tones of a wintry climate, for instance in Ballet chorus from La Boutique fantasque and Flight from the theatre of time, which is the earliest work in this show. It was made in Italy as a response to the devastating earthquake that rocked Naples and the provinces to the east where Pearson was then living. That terrifying event lingered long in the artist’s memory, heightening his sense of duende, of life and death, the themes of opera made real.
The themes visible in this opera series have resonated throughout Pearson’s whole career but more particularly in this last decade with the Bush Symphony series shown at Sanderson Contemporary Art in 2006 up to his most recent show, Con Brio, in 2013.Rejoicefrom 2012, a painting in that show, has its antecedence in the figurative tour de force that is Animalistic theatre (1985).
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