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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Philip Pearlstein, a Different Kind of Artist

    It’s weird.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Philip Pearlstein, 83, artist, is full of contradictions. His work is graphic, vibrant, provocative. There is a nude woman. Her ribs, the bags under her eyes, everything that she would want to hide or disguise, are visible. While extremely unflattering, it is still beautiful in its entirety.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ An endearing, old, technology-inept man, Pearlstein’s work seems to come from a hidden younger version of himself ‘- a modern and hip artist still tuned into the current vogue. He himself doesn’t seem to know how his work sprouts, claiming his work has been due to more necessity than passion.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Pearlstein says that his career never really took off until he received tenure at Brooklyn College, and explained that most of his earlier work was created just so he had something meaningful to discuss in his lectures.

    ‘ ‘ Most artists would claim inspiration struck them while watching a sunset or kissing a passionate lover. Philip Pearlstein does not attribute any strokes of genius to such occurrences, but rather he gives the glory to the art of house cleaning. Indeed, several of his ideas for paintings came to him as he rearranged pinwheels around his house to clear the way for sweeping. Not exactly romantic.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Pearlstein said, in regard to his paintings, that, ‘almost all happen by accident.’

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ But as one looks at his work, one can’t help but wonder if this is some ploy at modesty. As he went on, however, it was clear that it was no facade. Pearlstein showcased a level of modesty that truly garnered my respect in a short amount of time. When discussing one of his more powerful depictions ‘- a dollar sign with two children hanging off the ends of the parallel lines ‘- he didn’t boast of creativity but said that he was simply surprised no one had thought of the idea first, it seems so logical.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Even as he discussed the techniques he has mastered in his career, Pearlstein didn’t sound proud but rather grateful that he discovered the correct methods to achieve the desired look. Such techniques, for those interested, include making surfaces convincing (the sheen of bare skin, the softness of cloth, etc.) and using real space in his work. Most painters do not advise using real space; rather, one is supposed to stick to the paper’s plane, not purposely straying away from it.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ However, Philip Pearlstein doesn’t seem to care even the slightest bit about the norm, about what is expected. One of his main principles when painting is, ‘To go against what everybody was pushing.’ And judging by his vast collection of work, Pearlstein certainly adhered to his convictions.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ It’s as though a young rebel is still residing within his aging frame. But this modest man would simply state that he just loves to paint; he’s not there to ruffle any feathers.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ All through the lecture, Pearlstein pays homage to those artists that inspire him, crediting them for the output he has produced. Pearlstein claims that it all started in his high school art class, taught by Joseph Fitzpatrick ‘- who also taught Andy Warhol ‘- and he, apparently, fostered quite a few students in his Pittsburgh art class who went on to pursue successful art careers.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ While Pearlstein says that his career started rather late in his life, he never stopped adding to his portfolio. After winning awards in high school for a few of his paintings, he went on to use his skills in the army, in psychology texts, in catalogs, as well as blue prints.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Although he doesn’t speak passionately about painting, one can see that the fire and love for the act by simply watching him lecture. His eyes remained lit by some sort of invisible, self-sustaining light and his good nature never wavered.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ This joy does not seep from his good fortune or fame but rather from his own love of painting. Upon hearing that his hospital roommate of this past spring knew Pearlstein’s work, the artist was pleased but mainly shocked. As Allyson Regis ‘- a student who had attended the lecture ‘- said, ‘He still keeps it real.’ Fine words to describe such a man.’

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