College of Communications and Fine Arts Art Museum of the University of Memphis
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Philip Pearlstein

(Audio Commentary)

Philip Pearlstein

American (Pittsburgh, Pa., 1924)

"Two Reclining Nudes"

1982.002.001 Philip Pearlstein installation photograph

World War II, which took him to the Italian theater as a road sign painter, interrupted Philip Pearlstein's studies at Carnegie Institute of Technology. He returned after the war and became a colleague and friend of another native Pittsburger, Andy Warhola, aka Andy Warhol. After graduation in 1949, they shared apartments in New York while working as illustrators. Pearlstein, meanwhile, was pursuing his career as an abstract expressionist painter and finding a measure of critical success. He was acquainted with Philip Guston, Willem de Kooning and the critic Clement Greenberg among the artists and writers concentrated around 10th Street in Greenwich Village. He was also pursuing a master's degree in art history at NYU's Institute of Fine Art, which gave him an unusually critical perspective on contemporary art developments. Joining Guston and a few others, Pearlstein began regularly drawing from the nude for several years while continuing to enjoy success with his gestural abstractions.

In 1962, Pearlstein showed figure drawings for the first time. By now, pop and new realist artists were beginning to produce figurative work. However, Alex Katz' or Richard Lindner's work insists on the two-dimensionality of the picture plane expressed in part by flattened figures. Pearlstein's realistically rendered figures occupy natural space within and beyond the rectangle of the drawing surface, which crops off heads, arms, feet and other parts falling outside its frame. In addition and most shockingly for the time, he drew the bodies as clinically observed, ordinary, warts-and-all bodies in bored, sometimes sprawling, poses. Pearlstein's long career as a painter and printmaker has been built on this approach to the figure. He taught at Skowhegan in the summers of 1967 and 1968.


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