Pearlstein’s continued commitment is reflected in a series of works made during his military years in Florida and Italy (he was drafted in 1943, just after finishing his first year at Carnegie Tech). His time in Rome and Florence was especially influential. There, he visited the Roman ruins and the Vatican collection, and returned to Pittsburgh with detailed paintings and drawings of soldiers at rest on the Spanish Steps or couched in the Italian countryside.
Back in his hometown, Pearlstein continued to explore figuration against city backdrops—and had his fateful meet-cute with Warhol. Spurred by assignments that sent students around Pittsburgh to capture the city and its people, Pearlstein and Warhol began to develop their signature styles—often through depictions of the same scenes. In two works from the late-1940s, Pearlstein’s String Quartet (1948-49) and Warhol’s View of Concert Hall (1940s), the artists each painted a performance from a perch high in the balcony of a concert hall. While both pieces reveal an interest in the intersection of figuration and abstraction, Pearlstein’s shows a vested fascination with the characteristics of the concert goers, while Warhol is more engaged with the environment as whole—in the ambience of the concert, rather than his neighbors. The museum displays an almost exhaustive amount of work from this period, but the fascinating comparisons to be drawn from the artists’ nascent paintings—revelatory of two minds in the process of wangling distinct styles—held this writer’s interest.