Review of Pascal Pierme’s Recent Works by Jacqueline Hirsh Greene
“A painting is a dream for me, an image. A 3D sculpture is a fact,” Pascal Pierme said in a recent interview, “I want to navigate gently in the in-between, between doubts and certitudes.” In his recent work shown at GF Contemporary, Pierme exhibits new series of mahogany wooden sculptures. These current works certainly linger in the in-between, they hang on walls as 3D facts that render the motion and play of 2D mark making. Works are, in some respects, at once abstract and autobiographical. As a young boy in the south of France, Pierme recalls the influence of his grandfather, an artist himself who worked with wood. Between now and then, between Saint-Raphaël and Santa Fe where Pierme has now resided for many years, wood seems to be a locus of nostalgia and invention simultaneously. Still dedicated to the promise of wood sculpture and its very materiality, its texture, tendencies, and fragrance, completed works retain the artist’s own enduring sentiment and memory.
Pierme spoke on the compromise between control and spontaneity. Unlike clay or cloth, wood as a sculptural medium doesn’t have ‘give,’ which makes it a difficult material to manipulate in an impulse. Spontaneity, which he regards as an essential factor for real creativity, occurs however in the surprises and developments that come with each unique formation. His process for this series of work is broken down into two activities: the building and the assembling. Neither activity is clearly planned beforehand, as Pierme is excited by the unknown. Control is also important to make a carefully articulated product. His subtractive sculpture method (as opposed to additive, where material is added) is, though, challenging and relies on the physics of gravity and force. He notes that wood is unpredictable, it splinters and breaks off with a mind of its own. The building process is therefore one that allows attention but not authority. When it comes to the assembly of figures, color and arrangement schemes can be improvisational, but also require the artist’s command.
Approaching Les Origines Earth 17 (36x67in) from the side, the eye first catches the elliptical white negative space created by the curved cuts on the backsides of the vertical forms. The shadows, like the wood forms, are sculpted out in spots. The contrast between positive and negative space, between the wood forms and their shadows induced by light, make the eyes ping across the composition. In a second scan, the patterning of vertical lines in repetition is what becomes noticeable. Its color scheme, also somewhat repetitive, of beige, pale blue, brown, and warm wood-grain is an additional element of primary observation. As is the case with all works in this series, the tension lies within the negative space, between the verticality of forms. And yet, all of these initial observations shift with the viewer’s movement. Facing the work straight-on, color and figuration of forms becomes most striking, shadow and negative space actually dissipate.
When asked about optical illusion in his work, Pierme states that what he presents here is not illusive. The various light depending on the time of day, its created shadows, my own optical involvement, these are all mere physical truths. The sculpture should not be regarded as an isolated instance from these natural occurrences, but rather in coexistence with the earth around it. Works are one with their environments, what Pierme expresses as perceptions to be felt. Angel’s Secrets 1 (40x40in) has a square perimeter where the organic, vertical lines align in length. The tonality is kept neutral with creams and browns. Angel’s Secrets 1 incorporates a periodic breaking up of forms, a technique utilizing negative space that the artist describes as “not one you look at, but one you feel.” The work is a highly interactive experience in this way, and its perceived reality changes with and alongside the viewer.
Origines Sun on me 1 (60x90in) technically combines what Pierme admires as the freedom of a painter with the hard labor of a bronze sculptor. Woodwork is a middle ground. The piece is composed of 26 separate, organic, vertical forms that mimic fragments of rippled waves, or wobbly lines drawn on paper but made three-dimensional. Warm colors evolve in a gradient, with darkest shades in the center and lightest in the periphery. Central forms are arranged with less space, creating an intensified depth effect with focal-point. So much so that in passing or viewing the work from a new angle, different breadths can be discovered within its extra space. This compositional structure of grouping line-like forms together is consistent throughout the body of work, and goes in a different direction from Pierme’s other recent mixed-media panel works (for example, see Attitude 20 (16x16in) or Noir on Me 21 (13x13). He considers current wall-sculptures to have a feminine sensibility with their warmth, curve, and elegance. It is noticeable that Pierme takes inspiration from Brancusi, and one might say these works could be associated as iterations of Bird in Space, but rather more freeform and obviously, made of wood.
Translating the visual to the verbal is near impossible, no matter how representational the work, but Pierme finds descriptive language by way of metaphor and poetics. In the building process of Origines Evolutives 6 (69x107in) each individual form had a focus to somehow fall between “a tree branch” and “a waterfall,” or better said, “a liquid tree branch.” These liquid tree branches have a looser melody, the use of color and space to add dimension is not as salient as is in, i.e., Origines Sun on me 1. Here, the assembly process finds great spontaneity and contributes to a sensation that can be heard: I hear jazz licks and sporadic notes on a xylophone, and you likely hear something else. Origines Contact 1 patterns similarly, but the color selection of dark brown and white creates a minimalist contrast. The rhythmic qualities of these works, the simple yet compelling reciting of beats and tempos, bring the viewer back to their most primal instincts. Nature, time, space, and light all seem to revolve around these works, the viewer might be surprised by additional each encounter.