November 11, 2021 - January 22, 2022
November 11, 2021 - January 22, 2022
Betty Cuningham Gallery is pleased to open I Love Mud, an exhibition of Philip Pearlstein’s recent watercolors. Pearlstein, whose name is synonymous with figure painting, was forced to turn to other subjects for his art when the pandemic forced him into lockdown. Surrounded by his vast collection of art, antiquities, Americana, souvenirs and toys, all housed in his home studio, Pearlstein looked to these objects with new respect and interest. Pearlstein adds humor to his new direction – after concentrating hard and fast on the many antiquities that he has collected, he comes to the conclusion, to his surprise, that he must really love mud. Included in this Viewing Room below is an essay by Philip titled I Love Mud, where he briefly describes his lifelong passion for collecting and his admiration for the ancient artisans who created the objects in his collection.
During the past 18 months of what seemed like a universal lockdown, I turned to my collection as a subject to paint. Newly astounded by the detail, inventiveness and creativity that went into the antiquities on my studio shelves, I discovered… I love mud.
I love mud after it has been transformed into clay and manipulated into different forms like humans, animals, bowls or vases; I especially like it after it has been shaped or decorated to depict stories from mythology. Such are the majority of objects that I have collected as souvenirs from different epochs of civilization. I mostly acquired my collection from flea markets that I visited while traveling in the ’50s and ’60s, although occasionally I acquired objects from antiquities dealers as well.
I first came to appreciate the power of wet earth when I was 19, during the military training I received after I was drafted into the Army during World War II. I spent four months in basic infantry training at the Infantry Training Replacement Center in the red-earth center of Alabama. During training, we trainees learned ways to kill each other (seriously). By the end, I had become an expert in shooting a rifle, machine gun and bazooka, in throwing grenades, in using the butt of a rifle to kill (or at least maim) the man opposite, and I had mastered the techniques of hand-to-hand combat. I vividly remember one morning when we were marched onto a field after rollcall, separated by about 12 feet, and ordered to each dig a “foxhole” that was six feet deep and two feet in diameter. Once we were done digging, we were forced to get in the hole and told to crouch down and wait. A treadmill tank then came along and spiraled over each foxhole, forcing the earth down on top of us. We had to stay buried, unable to move, until our fellow soldiers came along with their small field-pack shovels to dig each of us out. At my current age of 97, I still have nightmares of the experience, along with a profound respect for the strength of mud.
Later during the War, I was stationed near Rome, Italy, for several months. On weekends, I spent several hours in the Vatican Museums, discovering the vast collection of Greek and Etruscan painted vases, pottery, and life-sized sculptures of human figures, all made of fired clay, which ultimately comes from mud. So that is why, quite simply, I love mud.
In this video, Philip explains the experience of creating the watercolors in this exhibition. He also provides more information about the numerous objects from his collection that appear in the works.
Philip Pearlstein, born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1924, received a BFA from Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1949 and an MA from NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts in 1955. He had his first solo show at Tanager Gallery in 1955. His honors include a National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1968; a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, 1969; election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1982 for which he served as President from 2003–2006; and recently the Icon Award in the Arts from the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT. Pearlstein has received Honorary Doctorates from: Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh; Brooklyn College, Brooklyn; College of Art & Design, Detroit; New York Academy of Arts, New York; and Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, Old Lyme, CT.
Pearlstein’s work is in many museum collections, most notably: The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH; de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA; Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Morgan Library and Museum, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; The Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; and The Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.