Philip Pearlstein Obituary, OKC Museum of Art Mourns Philip Pearlstein Death

Philip Pearlstein Obituary, Death – The death of artist Philip Pearlstein, whose work we are proud to have in our permanent collection, has saddened OKCMOA. Pearlstein is best known for his Modernist Realist nude paintings and is credited with reviving realist art. Philip Pearlstein, a painter whose coolly observed nudes reclaimed the naked human body for painting while also discovering a compelling modern idiom for the portrait genre, died Saturday morning in Manhattan. He was 98. Betty Cuningham of New York’s Betty Cuningham Gallery announced his death in a hospital. Mr. Pearlstein began painting naked models from life in the early 1960s, after transitioning from brushy Abstract Expressionist landscapes.

His icily lit nudes, presented as implacable facts rather than symbols or characters in a narrative, represented a shocking departure in American painting in an era dominated by Color Field abstraction and still heavily influenced by artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning’s emotional extravagance. “He has done what most ‘advanced’ critical opinion of the last two decades had declared impossible: He has created a major pictorial style based on an accurate and painstaking depiction of the figure,” The New York Times’ Hilton Kramer wrote in 1969, reviewing a one-man show at the Allan Frumkin Gallery, adding, “They are certainly like nothing else in our time’s painting.”

Mr. Pearlstein “probably did more to ‘break the ice’ for realist painting in America than any other artist of his generation,” Time magazine’s Robert Hughes wrote about a retrospective of his work at the Brooklyn Museum in 1983. Painting the figure from life represented a reactionary leap into the past, a nostalgia-laden foray into the swamps of 19th-century academic art, and a betrayal of the modernist avant-hard-won garde’s victories, according to many mainstream critics. Mr. Pearlstein was able to overcome these criticisms by approaching his subject in a rigorously modern manner. His models slouched and lolled, their faces slack with boredom or fatigue, defying traditional posing. Mr. Pearlstein let the canvas edge ruthlessly crop their bodies into abstract planes of muted color, broken up by harsh lighting.

Arms were severed at the wrist or elbow, while torsos were severed at the neck. The artist’s unflinching eye, which was usually far above his models, refused to remove stray shadows, including those cast by the easel. As a result, the final product was chilling reporting that was both unsettling and compelling. Mr. Pearlstein’s “hard realism,” as he called it, broke decisively from the Abstract Expressionists’ torrid emotionalism, embracing an art that was “sharp, clear, unambiguous,” he said in a statement to ARTnews in 1967. His nakedness defied interpretation and erotic fascination. They were anti-symbolic and would not participate in a story. “I had no interest in the meaning of the figure in its particular situation,” he wrote in a Paris Review artistic statement in 1975. “I refuse to be a do-it-yourself novelist or psychoanalyst.” I’d rather be known as a choreographer of stilled action.”