As we turn our gaze away from the NY School of Abstract Expressionism, there were young, gifted artists who wanted to explore the human body as an aesthetic form worthy of the creative’s gaze! English figurative painter David Hockney said: “In 1960, for a your art student trying to think of modern art, of the visual art of his time, obviously wanting to be involved in it, the opposition to the figure as a subject was very strong. I opposed it too; I thought, this is not the way to go. Yet obviously, I was dying to do it…” (David Hockney, David Hockney, 1976)
Philip Pearlstein, born in Pittsburg between WWI and WWI, sought to gain the skill to approach the figure, as an emerging artist looking to utilize a modernist/realist approach to the nude, studied the visual arts at Carnegie Mellon School of the Arts and also Art History later at New York University. Pearlstein was responding to an inner voice that wanted to explore, what British critic and museum curator Kenneth Clark referred to as “The Body Re-Formed.” More specifically, the undraped human body, male and female. “
“To be naked is to be deprived of our clothes and the word implies some of the embarrassment which most of us feel in that condition. The word nude, on the other hand, carries in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone. The vague image it projects into the mind is not of a huddled and defenseless body, but of a balanced, prosperous, and confident body: the body re-formed.” (Kenneth Clark, The Nude, 1956)
In Post WWI United States, there was in general society a strong resistance to the undraped body; in the avant-garde areas of Greenwich Village and academic institutions teaching studio art, drawing or painting the human figure was still frowned upon for very different reasons. The avant-garde was still focused on the realm of abstraction and the artist’s inner anger and perception of beauty through the lens of angst. Pearlstein, took exception to that restriction from society and from other artists/critics. Pearlstein’s studio was essentially neutral to the intrigues expressed outside about confronting the human figure. Pearlstein was observing the undraped figure existing in closed spaces while occupying, at the same time, the abstract aesthetics special to the artist’s studio. Pearlstein embodied his figures with an obvious erotic charge, but a charge protected by a centuries long cultural agreement in the West which emboldened artists to confront the undraped figure—male and/or female.
What are your thoughts on Pearlstein’s efforts to satisfy both the New York School aesthetics (i.e., abstraction) while listening to his inner voice driving him to undertake the “professionalism” of examining the human figure (in the well established Western traditions going back centuries of time)?