In his first exhibition in Los Angeles in almost 20 years, the British-born artist John Pearson presented six curvaceous acrylic stripe paintings on S-shaped supports. With pungent, synthetic color combinations that might have sprung from the palette of Bridget Riley, the paintings also have an intelligence and sensuous appeal that recall the hard-edge, early ’60s L.A. “Abstract Classicism” of John McLaughlin, Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley and Karl Benjamin. In his recent paintings, Pearson proves that there is still a rich vein to be mined in geometric abstraction.
For the past 50 years, Pearson—who has taught at Oberlin College since 1972—has been experimenting with combinations of reductive shapes and process-determined patterning. In various formats and series of paintings and prints, he orchestrates his precisely organized components into mesmerizing visual conundrums.
In the new works (all approximately 6 by 2½ feet, all 2011), Pearson superimposes one or two simple translucent shapes—an ellipse or pinched rectangle, or pairs of circles, ovals and raindrop forms—over striped grounds. The shapes have crisp, brightly colored outlines within which he mutes the colors of the underlying stripes. It is as if filters, interrupting the flow of the stripes, have been placed over isolated sections of the painting, playing off its overall contours. In Continuum/Regeneration Series: SLG#2, two ovals angled near the center of the painting look like hula hoops balanced against the sides of the wiggling stripes. Another work features an ellipse outlined in orange that extends diagonally across the entire surface, and looks as though it is prying back a large section of the cascading stripes. The effect is of a tilted portal with a misted view.
These are slow works that reward thoughtful unraveling. Their body-size scale and vertical format encourage a physical engagement that is augmented by the motion of the curved supports and stripes. The slender vertical surfaces suggest the single stroke of a brush laden with multicolored paint, or the lick of a candy-coated tongue. The supports are cut in reverse-bevel at a 30-degree angle, producing shadow effects, so that the paintings seem to float off the walls. Pearson has titled the show “Color Rise,” alluding to the visceral effects of his vibrant stripes and his willful manipulation of chroma. The artist’s distillations are brilliantly choreographed to energize the eye.
Photo: John Pearson: Oscillation/Fluctuation Series: SLG #12A, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 72 by 30 inches; at Sam Lee.