Neither Use nor Ornament

Nick Pearson makes sculpture and drawings (and photographs of sculptural objects). For him, the impulse to make art usually translates into a sustained period of work and reflection on a particular familiar object. Sometimes however, a themed series of drawings may evolve over several weeks. An idea might come into being more fleetingly though as a photographic work, as when recognizing a potential slippage of meaning passing through a familiar environment or, through a momentary recognition of the uncanny.

We are surrounded by manufactured objects, very few of which, by themselves, are vital to our existence. Our early ancestors revered the few objects they made, as either tool or totem (or both). Made objects were used as a means of survival, a talisman or badge of identity. In recent centuries, even up to the more secular present, we nevertheless retain or have redirected that ancient reverence for the objects we collect – thanks to advertising and the advice of lifestyle magazines – to identify ourselves as 'civilized', even 'modern'. Art and technology have been important expressions of this identity, but so too are the low-cost, mass-produced items of consumer culture. This artist is particularly interested in these lower cultural forms and uses such things as postcards, a plastic bin-lid, broken chairs, and cardboard packaging as both the material and starting-point for his work.

Subjects, surfaces and substrates

Some drawings are made on wallpaper samples or on cheaply purchased printed ephemera like postcards and newspapers. As in all drawings that make use of collaged elements, there is a play between the real and the illusionary. What is drawn, or how it is arrived at may be influenced by the design on the printed or embossed surface, or, in a series of drawings, by the drawing that came immediately before it. Whatever the surface, the subject of the drawing may be a development of an idea found in an existing, (or possible object), or it may be an imagined object, existing only as an idea, in the illusionary realm of drawing.

Take an object . . .

The initial objects used as starting points – like an old paint can, a pair of discarded crutches or a leather-palmed rigger’s glove found squashed, expressively into the road – may have fallen out of use, but nevertheless suggest a history or seem to have an expressive potential, either in keeping with their original functions or suggestive of something else. This is then recuperated or refashioned by the artist. In this act of restoration however, something goes awry. It is as if the attention the object is receiving gives it an embarrassing blush, which cannot be wiped away. The object stands awkwardly in a state of transition. It has lost one identity and has not yet found another. The object is now no longer out of use but out of place and the awkwardness that comes from this transformative process inevitably alters its meaning, and leans towards what Marcel Duchamp called a 'new thought for the object'.

The sculpture is usually painted. Sometimes paint is the only addition to what is already there, made directly onto the object itself. In all the work, the artist is interested in what the object becomes when framed by his own intervention, or by art. In some, simply re-painted works (eg. Map (Watson’s Hat), or Japanese Temple) the artist's intervention in the chosen object takes the form of an over-painted image of itself in oils – shrouding the object in an overlaid 1:1 map of its own surface. This direct mapping addresses the relationship between sculpture and its ‘other', the world of everyday objects.

* * *

Rather than concentrate too much though, on the philosophy of 'things' and the nature of the object – though these issues are certainly there – I believe Pearson (perhaps unlike Duchamp, with his famous aesthetic indifference) wants to highlight the visual and poetic potential of ordinary things and remind us of the very human way in which we personally shape our world. He wants the sculpture to speak of lived lives and of the people who live them. The human figure does not feature at all in the work, but the human presence is always there by implication and in the nature and treatment of the objects chosen.

These are ordinary things, found in skips, bought from pound stores and junk shops or rediscovered in the studio: objects of common use. It is the everyday stuff of life that is hardly ever noticed, but if examined anthropologically, would yield a wealth of information about the culture that has produced it. Pearson is interested in these cultural associations and what happens to them once he softens the edges, blurs the function, or highlights a particular quality by his intervention.

The artist likes to keep thoughts like this in mind as he works. And with those thoughts, I am reminded of Jasper Johns' dictum:

'Take an object
  do something to it
    do something else to it . . .'

Often, the biggest decision is in the choice, or recognition of the object in the first place. The rest comes with living with it, doing something to it and then reacting to the effect of that first intervention.

Norman Barnfather, Summer 2010
(With thanks to Peter Millson and David Ross)