Up & Coming Weekly Magazine, February 13-19, 2008

By Soni Martin

The subject and style of Leslie Pearson’s paintings has changed during the last decade depending on her location. From the three-dimensional “Newcastle Architecture” series, inspired while living in Newcastle England to the “Along the Journey” landscape series; the unity in her work during the last decade is her response to moments of aesthetic awareness fueled by circumstance.

Pearson’s circumstance has changed many times during the last 15 years. Although she is a professional artist living in Fayetteville, she is a Missouri native who earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art from Southeast Missouri State University in 1998. After graduation she became the assistant director of the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri.

In 2000, she moved to England where she earned a master’s degree in museum studies at the University of Newcastle. Upon returning to the state, Pearson joined the Army as a photojournalist for a military intelligence unit and freelanced as an arts and entertainment journalist for the Augusta Chronicle, a daily newspaper in Augusta, Ga. She now works full-time from her home and studio in Fayetteville and operates the Pearson Gallery.

A visit to her Web site (www.lesliekpearson.com) allows us to see the range of styles in her work. Whereas most artists cringe at having to write an artist’s statement, Pearson is comfortable with words. She refers to the Along the Journey landscape series as “illustrations of isolated instances, moments in time and places which represent significant points of realization. Through these landscapes I recreate meditative environments which suggest both the loneliness of solitude and peaceful reflection. My work is often a response to the beauty and simplicity of my natural surroundings which I use as motifs to describe the idea of infinite reality and encourage contemplation.”

Her recent work, being exhibited as Gallery 208 at the corporate offices of Up & Coming Weekly, is a series of paintings which references nature, objects and the use of text. Her style is different from the earlier work, but the essence of Pearson’s work remains the same. The essence is personal and narrative in nature; her paintings illicit contemplation about her environment (nature, political or spiritual). Person’s message dominates her work in a way that does not leave the viewer much room to interpret; instead we are more akin to receptors of her message.

Pearson confirmed my interpretation of her work by stating: “ Every viewer brings his own experiences to artwork when they see it and are usually making a conscious effort to find meaning. With the use of words, I want to make people a little more aware of my intention behind the work. The paintings actively state something; they actually have something to say. Words have a way of catching the eye. Letters in themselves can be aesthetically interesting symbols to look at. People bring their own recognition of those symbols, an understanding of what the words mean within the given social and historical context of the painted image, and within that framework they can find their own element of truth.”

The use of text and image can be seen throughout the Gallery 208 exhibit. In the large oil painting titled Bird in the Sky, Pearson has painted a sky-scape. In the painting, black birds are perched on telephone lines, the telephone pole supports a street light, a transformer; the telephone pole anchors the far right side of the canvas, one lone white bird soars among the black birds. The painting is low key in color –– grays, blacks, sky blue and a hint of earth brown. The text on the representational images reads “bird in the sky, you know how I feel.”

Not without words on or off the canvas, Pearson stated the following about her Bird on a Wire series, “I started as I neared the end of my two-year stint in the Army as a photojournalist. About a year into training I went totally deaf in my right ear. I subsequently spent the remaining time being medically discharged and learning to accept my disability. Not only was the experience a bit overwhelming, it took quite awhile to feel like myself again because I had to deal with headaches and vertigo; symptoms other people couldn’t see on the surface (and thankfully have now subsided). I always felt like I was a bird on a wire teetering between two worlds –– civilian life and military life. I remember the early mornings spent standing in exercise formations and looking up at the silhouettes of the birds on the telephone wires above and thinking I wish I was as free as they are, I wish I could fly away and have my own life back again. That’s the essence of this series of paintings, to be within reach of what you want so badly but still not being able to access it. I’m proud that I was able to serve my country but overall, I’m glad to put it behind me and move forward.”

Pearson’s work touches on the personal, the reflective and the political. In the painting titled Caged, she has created images using an overlay of text, a birdcage, and a woman –– all carefully crafted in a flattened design pattern, types of information. Pearson’s artist statement about the work references her interest in the “current struggles and gender issues that women face. I try not to forget that a previous generation of women fought so that I can have choices.”

For the painting titled Caged, Pearson was reminded of how she takes her right of choices for granted after reading an out-of-date sex education textbook for girls –– written by a woman in the 1960s. Pearson was inspired to paint Caged after reading directions like the following: “...remember to look your best when going to bed. Try to achieve a look that is welcoming without being obvious. If you need to apply face cream or hair rollers, wait until he is asleep as this can be shocking to a man...when he reaches his moment of sexual fulfillment, a small moan from yourself is encouraging to him and quite sufficient to indicate any enjoyment you may have had.”

If you are an art appreciator that prefers not to read artist’s statements, then you will certainly have that option. But if you like to read the thoughts by artists, then Person’s exhibit is one in which you have the opportunity to read detailed descriptions of what inspires her.

Both types of visitors to Gallery 208 at Up & Coming Weekly on Rowan Street will enjoy the variety of material and objects Pearson uses to express herself. From printing on hymn books to sealing the surface of a painting with layers of epoxy resin, Pearson’s experimental nature will nudge viewers to rethink what a painting can be and how an artist can use the ordinary to inspire the extraordinary.

The gallery hours are limited to Monday-Friday during regular business hours, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Well worth the trip to the Gallery 208, visitors to the gallery will be limited to only seeing Pearson’s latest body of work; yet they will be privy to how an artist combines pattern painting, emotion, ext and objects to evoke contemplation.