Anyone with access to Wikipedia can instantly learn that Philip Pearlstein was born in the twenties, shared roach-infested digs with Andy Warhol and is filed under “Contemporary Realism.” But no online compendium of facts will prepare you for the sheer pleasure of seeing his recent paintings at Talley Dunn Gallery. For a man in his eighties, his work exudes a surprisingly joyous boyishness. Pearlstein is adept at reminding us that the world is deliciously tactile. Model with Chrome Chair, Kiddie Car, Kimono and Bambino serves splendidly as an exercise in visual plundering. It’s refractory; it’s shiny; it’s chocked with baubles and it’s impossible not to love it.
The aforementioned kiddie car enters the painting with pent-up velocity that plays against the model’s angular lassitude. A gloriously colorful floral motif connects the two with a vertical riff and it’s all dopplegangered in the reflections of a chrome chair. This is more fun than dessert carts at a birthday party. The painting’s cherry red is alliteratively cheery and we’re simultaneously dazzled by the jumbled array of the coolest-garage-sale-stuff-ever-assembled and puzzled by the somberness of the female figure. She’s firmly situated in the lineage of odalisque figures of the 19th century. However, she’s been updated and given the shimmer of exotica cast by dreadlocks and ethnicity.
She becomes stuff among other stuff, asleep in Wonderland. Perhaps it’s being suggested that we’re slumbering, too. This is our white-hot chance to wake up. If these paintings can’t jolt us into consciousness, better head for Esalen or Burning Man — or the ER.
Copyright, Patricia Mora 2012