How a Trip to the Beach Helped Jack Pierson Get Back to His Roots

For most, vacations can be a time of external exploration: a chance to visit foreign places and have new and novel experiences. While visiting the small, sparsely populated island of North Captiva off the Gulf Coast of Florida from December to March of last year, artist Jack Pierson opted to do just the opposite, instead using his time away to look inward and reset his multifaceted creative practice. Pierson, who’s worked in a number of mediums—but is perhaps best known for his large text-based sculptures—created hundreds of small paintings and drawings while in isolation on the island, some of which are on view in his latest show at Cheim & Read.

The change of scenery was in part an effort to “get back to the hand” for Pierson, who began his career with exhibitions of intimate line drawings. This endeavor is more than evident in the paintings that populate the gallery’s main room, where similarly styled watercolors are arranged in a number of clustered grids. Mostly abstract, the works are full of fluid lines and organic shapes, with a few hints of floral figuration. Though haphazard in nature, the effect is entirely intentional, as Pierson painted the works in an automatic style modeled after the method popularized by Surrealist artist André Masson. What the technique lacks in mindfulness, it gains in spontaneity, as brushstrokes feel fresh in their movements—what Pierson calls “my brain dancing on paper”—and evocative of the ever-shifting Floridian seasides.

Those coastal environments are present throughout the exhibition: In the back room, surrounded by a series of large, also “automatic” drawings from 2012, sits a massive assemblage composed of driftwood Pierson collected from the shores of North Captiva. The sculpture’s sheared and bifurcated forms are echoed in the accompanying graphite drawings that consist of staggered but repetitive lines, from which one infers the occasional frond or orifice, and appear not unlike a cross between Ellsworth Kelly and Carroll Dunham.

The smallest works in the show are also the most impactful. The 10 tiny oil paintings hung in the gallery’s front room embody a gracefulness that belies their material: here oil paint has been mixed with sand and wax, giving the vibrantly colored works a fresco-esque matte appearance.


Alex Allenchey


Jack Pierson: onthisisland” is on view at Cheim & Read , New York, Jun. 25–Aug. 28, 2015


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