The labyrinthine pattern of lines that appears in many of artist Henry Pearson’s works resembles a variety of things: a fingerprint, a horizon, a maze.
The optical compositions appear to reverberate, emanating a rhythm that Charlene Newsom wants visitors to sense when they peruse a new exhibit of Pearson’s work at Gallery C.
“It’s light and it’s water, it’s ripples, it’s soundwaves, it’s music,” said Newsom, who owns the gallery on North Blount Street in downtown Raleigh.
Pearson, a Kinston native who died in 2006 at age 92, has been linked to the optical art movement of the 1960s. His drawings, prints, paintings and sculptural objects are in the collections of many museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the North Carolina Museum of Art.
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More than 10 of his works are on display at Gallery C through Jan. 31. The exhibit coincides with a separate exhibit at the Met that includes his prints alongside drawings by Roy Lichtenstein, Annibale Carracci and other artists through Jan. 30.
When Newsom curated her exhibit, she made sure to mix several of Pearson’s “frolicsome” works that contain bright pops of color with black-and-white drawings. “October Night” blends deep red, blue and purple tones in oscillating lines, while “Blue On Yellow” and “Blue on Red” thrust vivid colors into the room.
“With non-objective art, modern art, a lot of people don’t like it,” Newsom said. “It takes them a long time to warm up to it because they don’t understand it. You just have to relax and get into it a little bit, and you can start feeling the organic rhythms of it.”
Pearson was born in 1914 in Kinston, a Lenoir County town about 80 miles southeast of Raleigh. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1935 before going on to earn a master’s in fine arts from Yale University. He worked as a stage scene designer before joining the United States Army and Air Force.
In a 1965 interview recorded for the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institute, Pearson said the linear abstractions were inspired by his work drawing topographical maps of Japan for the military during World War II.
“In the geometric there are these narrowing and broadening spaces so that I create, I hope, a kind of slow movement that happens between the forms – I call it breathing,” Pearson said in the interview. “It exhales and inhales, exhales and inhales as it moves around and you eventually find some parts shrugging against others very slowly as if trying to move.”
After the war, Pearson studied art iunder Reginald Marsh, a painter known for his depictions of life in New York City. He also taught art at the New School for Social Research and acted as a general critic for the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
Additionally, Pearson began corresponding with Irish Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney and illustrated some of Heaney’s works. At the exhibit at Gallery C, several of his drawings and prints appear above poems by Heaney.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler