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Philip Pearlstein

(b. 1924)


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(b Pittsburgh, 24 May 1924).

American painter, a leading proponent of the return to naturalism and interest in the human figure that was one aspect of the move away from the dominance of Abstract Expressionism. His early works (mainly landscapes) were painted with vigorous gestural handling, but in the 1960s he developed a cooler, more even type of brushwork. He specializes in starkly unidealized portrayals of the nude figure (singly or in pairs), usually set in domestic surroundings. Because of the clarity of his compositions and the relentlessness of his scrutiny, he is sometimes described as a Superrealist, but his work has an individuality that puts him outside this classification. He uses harsh lighting, oblique angles, and cropping of the image (heads are often excluded and the body is seen in voyeuristic close-up) in a way that suggests candid photography, but his pictures do not try to counterfeit the effect of photographs: the handling of paint is smooth—but vigorous rather than finicky. In his paintings he creates what he calls ‘a constellation of still-life forms’ and he feels that he has ‘rescued the human figure from its tormented, agonized condition given it by the expressionist artists’. His work is included in many leading collections and he has won numerous awards.

Subjects: Art.


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