Like haute couture, John Pearson’s elegant, light-filled acrylic works painted on birch panel and rag board are deceptively simple, fitting closely around ideas of growth and change, absence and spiritual clarity. More than half of the 20 shaped paintings at Pearson’s show Transformations, at 1point618 gallery, are presented behind glass, suspended in white-painted, box-like frames. Protected from the space of our daily world, they’re samples of a serene alien geometry, brought back from a hyper-natural, timeless realm. Captive in the dusty present, they measure pure distances between containment and release, depicting the mess of natural change in absolute terms.
Pearson's paintings are designated by letters of the alphabet, from A to T, as if he were translating a series of symbolic sounds into another medium. Further combinations like "Bwl" serve as titles or subtitles and stand for visual elements — "Black, white line" describes the work called "O". Sight and sound, consonants and vowels, upper- and lower-case lettering mingle, as if in an innovative acoustic notation.
"A," "B," "C" and "D" are displayed as a group — tall, slim pieces built like the sounding boards of oversized musical instruments. Each is eight feet tall, about a foot wide and several inches deep, pierced with a number of unevenly spaced round or slit-like openings. These bring to mind not only pipes, flutes and viols, but the bark of trees expanding and splitting, pods pulling apart or, as Pearson suggests in a statement, bubbles in a stream. His gentle pastels are the pale shades of early spring — birdhouses built to shelter a song, rather than the bird who sings it, echoing with deep notes sensed like noon-day ghosts.
All of Pearson's forms at Transformations are curved or undulating topologies of visual tone. The leaf-green, left-curving arc of "G" is two feet long and a third as wide, floating in one of Pearson's box frames. A delicate white line arches to the right almost invisibly across the green in an opposing, balancing gesture. "K", which is one of two black-and-white pieces included in the exhibit, is similar in size and shape, but with an aerodynamic flair; its left side is composed of four wing-like scallops, edged with precisely drawn lines like a diagram of movement conceived at the close of winter's hard grisaille.
Pearson has been chair of Oberlin University's art department since 1972. His prints and paintings, collected by MOMA, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Cleveland Museum of Art, among many others, have developed over the decades from minimalist-oriented post-painterly abstraction, with affinities for approaches developed by artists like Frank Stella and Robert Mangold. 1point618's update on Pearson's explorations as his formal concerns find new freedom is a source of real excitement and more than local interest.