Stories in Light: Stuart Pearl, a Photography Retrospective
January 21 @ 5:30 pm - March 12 @ 8:00 pm
Virtual Artist Talk: Wednesday, February 16, 7:00 – 8:00pm. REGISTER ON ZOOM
Some photographers are from a place, while others are distinctly of it. Just as Ansel Adams became synonymous with the sprawling American West, or Nan Golding with the nocturnal ecosystem of 1970s New York, the locus of a photographer’s production can become inseparable from their creative product.
Photographer Stuart Pearl is a distinct product of Cleveland. A life-long resident and second-generation Ohio artist, his work reflects the region’s shifting industrial realities, hidden revelations, and the people who travel its landscape.
This January, the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve will host Stories in Light: Stuart Pearl, a 50-year retrospective which traces the artist’s trajectory from his documentary roots through his lavish urban landscapes, and illusory abstract studies. Though diverse in subject matter, the breathtaking images are united by a painterly attention to light and narrative, as well as a compelling desire to capture the texture of life in Northeast Ohio.
Pearl inherited his appreciation for the tumult of the city from his father, the prolific painter and educator Moses Pearl. Known for his bright, bustling watercolors, Moses’ work memorializes the looming factories and ramshackle houses of Cleveland’s mid-century neighborhoods; they also set the stage for his son’s artistic development. As Pearl describes, “I grew up surrounded by paintings and sketches. They covered every wall of our house. Dad used brush and pencil to capture his version of the world but sometimes he would grab his old Argus camera. That equipment fascinated me once I saw how it could be used to freeze a moment in time. It was pure magic to a little kid.”
Pearl’s own urban landscapes transform Cleveland’s gritty industrial center with the drama and grandeur of Renaissance painting. Using sweeping compositions and bold chiaroscuro, the images are reminiscent of opulent oil tableaus, populated by classical forms and rimmed with porcelain light. In Morning Transit, amber light oozes like honey over the cream arches of the Terminal Viaduct, chasing a silver passenger train as it races out of frame. A striking night scene unfolds in Innerbelt Bridge Demolition as construction crews spotlight the vestigial steel giant against a silvering dusk. Sparks fly into the air and cranes contort, silhouetted by a pink-tinged skyline. These are not manufactured images, but rather carefully awaited moments which say as much about the city as the artist’s relationship to it.
Stories in Light also features five decades of Pearl’s historic documentary photographs. Pearl, who attended Kent State University for post-graduate study in photojournalism and later worked as the Art Director for AT & T, began honing his craft early in his undergraduate career. “I shot for campus newspapers where I developed my photojournalistic style,” Pearl explains. “It was exciting to document people like Leonard Bernstein, Elton John, Cheech and Chong, and Ted Kennedy. Because newspapers run on deadlines, these assignments taught me how to work fast… Images must be compelling and composed in a way that immediately tell the story. These became guiding principles.”
A particularly moving piece features Pearl’s father painting a sports mural for South High in a makeshift basement studio. The image conveys the artist’s meditative gaze and the great scale of his endeavor. His eyes levelly regard a distant corner of the composition while his brush rests against a well-worn pallet, attending to the task with the unbroken focus of the athletes he depicts.
A fascinating series on display is Pearl’s abstract studies which transform everyday life into visual illusions. In Acacia Winter Shadow Stream, the viewer is presented by what appears to be a deep gash in the snow, cut by a dark trickle of water. Upon closer inspection, a miniature bridge emerges, revealing the trickle to be a deep stream which destabilizes the visual field. The juxtaposition of perceived and realized scale turns the mind, creating the sensation of looking at a tabletop model or 3-D collage.
In another image, the featureless peaks of suburban houses peer out over a tangle of foliage, reaching nearly to the rooftops through forced perspective. The shapes stand out as invasive, geometric impossibilities hiding between the natural world and an exquisitely feathered cloudscape. The observer gets the distinct impression the houses are peeking back, and that it is perhaps best to stay hidden in the weeds. As in many of Stuart’s works, the image calls on the viewer to reimage their position, their place and the world, and the locus of beauty, which Pearl reminds us, is often just beyond our doors.
Stories in Light: Stuart Pearl, a Photography Retrospective, will be celebrated with a campus-wide reception on Friday, January 21st, 5:30 – 8:00pm which includes two simultaneous openings at The Sculpture Center: Joshua Penrose: Forward Escape & Charmaine Spencer: From: Seed To: Root. No reservations needed but masks will be required while on campus.