John Pearson, Painter

1975 CLEveland arts prize for VISUAL ARTS

One of the most successful and respected area artists, John Pearson has developed his style over the past five decades from an intense system-based program to one more attuned to the spiritual influences of the natural environment. With over 100 one-man shows (his first in London in 1963) and numerous accolades and prizes, he continues to perfect his carefully painted and constructed pieces to suggest the beauty of form. Major museums in Europe and the United States own his work as do many private and corporate collectors.

Pearson was born in Yorkshire and studied at the Harrogate School of Art, Yorkshire (National Diploma of Design, 1960), the Royal Academy Schools, London (Certificate, R.A.S 1963), the Akademie der Bildende Kunst, Munich (1963–64, research fellow), and Northern Illinois University (M.F.A. 1966). Before arriving to teach at Oberlin in 1972, he taught at the University of New Mexico, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and the Cleveland Institute of Art. He is currently the Young-Hunter Professor of Art at Oberlin College and lives in Oberlin with his wife, the artist Audra Skuodas.

Pearson’s early style reflects the European reaction to expressionism and artistic emotionalism in the form of a rational, systematic approach to art (often called the “New Tendency”). An heir to the tenets of Constructivism, he investigated color within a pre-determined linear or grid system that eliminated options after the artist’s initial choices, thus also deferringany aesthetic judgment of the piece until it was finished. Pearson did not try to eliminate beauty from his work, however: As he has noted, “What counts is how it looks after I’m finished.  . . . I hope my paintings will slowly seduce.”

Indeed, this mathematically complex system offered multiple possibilities. In Pearson's early works, it was based on the straight line. Soon he began exploring the possibilities of geometrical shapes and restricted color schemes (Mondrian Series). In effect, the mathematical system itself became the subject of the painting: It was the system that Pearson was investigating. He took some of these experiments further by exploring three-dimensional sculptural systems, but found the time involved to realize the result took him away from his direct relationship with the work.  

In the 1990s Pearson abandoned his years of work with the computer to concentrate on the initial inspiration for his paintings. His travels to Japan revived his interest in natural phenomena and the endless configurations of nature. But the years of working within a highly disciplined system seemed to drive him now to focus on the essence of an experience, a singlemindedness fostered by many aspects of Japanese culture. Pearson’s Japan Passage Series evokes the Japanese reverence for the spiritual in nature. In these works, after many preliminary drawings, the artist’s early impressions are reduced to basic forms. The paintings and painted sculpture in natural wood or on wood painted white evoke universal ideas of art, form and nature. Pearson attempts to remove himself from the work of art and to “invite people to discover something about themselves.” In these deceptively simple, timeless and almost preternatutrally quiet pieces, Pearson declares that “the function of art is to introduce or heighten experience.” Neither politics nor religion nor outward reality invades these pieces, only the universal that speaks directly to the individual viewer.

—Diane De Grazia

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 • info@clevelandartsprize.org

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