By David Pearson
New Mexico artist David Pearson reflects on his graceful sculptures in an excerpt from his new book
Driving south of Santa Fe into the Galisteo Basin on Highway 14, the horizon opens up. Fields of grass stretch into a cornflower blue sky in an almost Midwestern tableau. Cottonwoods rustle; junipers and piñon pines stand quietly. Horses wander nonchalantly in pastures, and dogs are friendly presences on ranches situated along dirt lanes that didn’t even have names in the 1990s. That’s when Pearson bought 20 acres of land here in the San Marcos/Lone Butte area, a high llano or plateau that was centuries ago a center for farming and pottery-making in the upper Rio Grande area, but was abandoned after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. Today it’s mostly private homes, although if you survey the open range in the direction of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, you may sight a stray antelope. And if you drive near David Pearson’s ranch, you may hear the blues-rock strains of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Pearson first got familiar with the area while working with famed sculptor Allan Houser, who lived just two miles away (“I would see him sitting on his porch just in this total calmness and I thought, someday I’m going to live like this,” he says). Then in 1995, one year after Houser’s passing, he was hired to design and build a bronze foundry at Allan Houser Inc. for production of all remaining editions of Houser’s work; that brought him back to the area. By this time he was married to his second wife, gallery owner Patricia Carlisle, who had just launched her own art gallery, Patricia Carlisle Fine Art, representing his sculptures among other art. “We saw this place, and we knew it was perfect. I could spend the rest of my life here,” Pearson remembers.
They bought the land in the mid-1990s and began building a studio for Pearson on it—a house would follow. “I was still working in the foundry at Houser’s and I somehow knew it was time to fulfill the dream of being on my own. So I went out to my car and I got on my cell phone and called Patty and I said, ‘I’m going to quit this job. I’m going to go full time into sculpting.’ And she said, ‘I think it’s time too.’”
Pearson thought a lot about Houser as he constructed his own studio just over the hill from Houser’s: “Allan was the king, the man. He never faltered. He was a workhorse. He was a mule as far as artists go. He would work from sun up to sun down. I mean, he was always hitting it strong. And that’s what I do. I hit it. I work. And I love what I do.”
His first studio here, finished in 1997, was a single room. Hot wax operations were along one wall, metal and patina areas in other parts of the open-ceilinged shop. But it was all his, and he could work from dawn to dusk on his own ethereal sculptures—lithe, elegant figurative pieces, sometimes with cubist elements. They flowed out of him. Bronze figures inspired by tales from Greek mythology, like that of rebellious Clytie—who angered the gods, so they transformed her into a sunflower. Narrow, elongated figures, sometimes wrapped in gauze to create a mummy effect. Arts writer Michael Koster wrote of them, “Stoic faces from another time evoke the stillness of the tomb, the dignity of an age long past.”
In The Santa Fe New Mexican, Pearson explained, “I think of my work as being very strong in line, as being peaceful with a sense of presence to them. The style can express anything, from a person walking to someone just being lonely.” He expounded, “It’s a combination of form, feeling, and abstraction that reaches for an aesthetic beauty, rather than conveying a more complex expression.”
He experimented with male forms, androgynous figures, and one-winged angels, but he kept returning to long, slender female forms, portrayed in sleek contours and elongated designs. He elaborated in Focus Santa Fe in 1999, “Elongation comes to me quite spontaneously, and it has always been an integral part of my vision. The Etruscans believed that shadows were elongated figures representing the soul, and shadows were believed to contain the spirit of a person.”
Pearson’s signature style was refining itself now: linear, tapered figures that are idealized rather than individualized. Sometimes they are more abstracted, sometimes more representational, but always there is a feeling of universality, of belonging to every culture, every era. They evoke the natural world at times, and at others, the spirit world. There is a strong sense of presence and a hint of romanticism. The pieces seem to command their own space, creating a kind of zone between the sculpture and observer. This allows the observer to step into a different realm in which the sculpture resides, experiencing its presence in its own space.
Pearson reflects of his work, “Everything has a progress. The mummies were first. Then the angels were second. And then the birds came into the picture. I’ve always done the females. That’s just what I have a feeling for. The males that I’ve done, which are very few, tend to be torn up and ragged, stiff and stark, beat up. Whereas the women are totally free flowing—it’s receptive energy.” He never uses models, and rarely photographs. “A lot of times these pieces come through me, and when they are finished I can’t believe I made them. It’s just a strange thing—it’s like the feeling is there when you’re making the piece, and you just do it.”
Now Pearson’s oeuvre began commanding increased attention. New Mexico Magazine commended his sculptures of “people of light, spirits who have evolved out of the material plane and now guide and protect the rest of us.” Jon Carver memorably reflected in THE Magazine in 2000, “His bronzes recall the ancient Egyptian figurines that were placed in the pyramids as guardians for the dead as they made the journey from this world to the next” Carver surmised, “Cycladic idols also come to mind. These had a tremendous influence on the Italian sculptor-turned-painter Modigliani, and account for the elongation of form that is a hallmark of his work. Pearson, like Modigliani and the great 20th-century sculptor Giacometti, stretches his figures in a similar manner.”
As the accolades poured in, Pearson hunkered down at his country studio, traveling further into a world of spirit, emotion, and humanism. The qualities of harmony and balance now seemed to grow stronger as, in his 40s, he delved into deeper realms.
Pearson is represented by Patricia Carlisle Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM.
This excerpt is from David Pearson: The Path of a Sculptor, written by Wolf Schneider and published by Fresco Fine Art Publications, LLC.
Featured in November 2006