Purple Art

[January 25 2018]

A Q&A with painter Philip Pearlstein

Philip Pearlstein “Paintings 1990 – 2017″ presents a series of late 20th century and early 21st century works by the revered American painter (and former art school flatmate of Andy Warhol).  At 93, Pearlstein and his realist nudes still captivate through contorted angles, and a jumble of found objects which reject easy symbolism

Jethro Turner — How do you go about finding ‘the most challenging composition to paint’?
Philip Pearlstein — 
I usually work with two models and they help me pick out things from my collection to include – I’m a flea market addict! Usually I start with the latest object I’ve collected and then build the composition around it. Then the models find their positions and they have to be comfortable. Then I walk around, looking at the setup we’ve decided on and make adjustments – this takes a few hours, most of the morning.

Jethro Turner — You’ve said before that there is no symbolism in the objects that sit alongside these nude figures. How and why do you select them?
Philip Pearlstein — 
I look for objects that have a unique character – unique in how they are put together. I also have a collection of fabrics from many different cultures – Native American, middle eastern, etc. I try to avoid anything that has strong religious implications.

 Jethro Turner — Over your life and career both as an artist and an art historian you’ve seen pretty drastic shifts in what ‘good painting’ is. Where do you feel your work sits now?
Philip Pearlstein — 
My work has always been out of step. I did paintings of a dollar sign and Superman in 1949 and they were laughed at when I showed them to dealers and other artists. I also tried to be an abstract expressionist, but the paintings kept turning in to landscapes. I started painting from the figure directly, as a result of having to teach a course on figure drawing. However I was regarded as a traitor for this because I was already a known artist, known for exhibiting my abstract oriented works. And as a result the work got a lot of attention!

Jethro Turner — How do you pick the models you paint?
Philip Pearlstein — 
They pick me! Most of them I’ve worked with for a long period of time- some of them over 15 years!

Jethro Turner — Is there a special appeal to realist painting right now, in what can seem like a pretty politically surreal age? Do you feel like you paint in a political context?
Philip Pearlstein — 
No. I have observed that politically obsessed work quickly goes out of fashion.

Philip Pearlstein “Painting 1990-2017” exhibition is on view until March, 25th at Salon 004, Saatchi Gallery, London.

Text Jethro Turner and photo Ekaterina Bazhenova

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