Encore Magazine, Wilmington, NC

March 26 - April 2, 2008

By Lauren Hodges

When looking back on our lives, what do we have to remind us of our journey? There are photo albums of age-progressing pictures, filled with fashion errors and friends with whom we’ve lost touch. Some of us have journals documenting our heartbreaks, frustrations, triumphs—and bad handwriting. Human beings have a natural instinct to document their days, dating all the way back to cave drawings and hieroglyphics. Whether we are looking forward to the nostalgia or just needing a means to capture the moment, people are finding new ways to put their thoughts and feelings out into the world every day.

Leslie Pearson, a soon-to-be local artist, mixes text and painted images to convey her messages to an audience.

“I use text to inject tone and voice to a piece, not to offer an explanation,” she says. “Words have a way of catching the eye; letters are merely symbols that we attach meaning to. 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.”

Pearson’s portfolio of mixed-media paintings is a proverbial open book of the artist’s mind. Each work features text that speaks for its subject.

“Sometimes the words bring clarity to the painting,” Pearson explains, “and sometimes it adds to the ambiguity of the image. Some artists reject the combination on the grounds that visual art should stand on its own without language. Others prefer to use words exclusively. In my case the interplay between the hand-painted words and images acts as an effective vehicle for communicating ideas.”

Her collection is further communicated in her new book, Off the Diving Board: The Narrative Paintings of Leslie Pearson. “I have wanted to publish a book of my artwork, which is narrative in nature, for some time now,” she describes. “When I was awarded a Regional Artist Project Grant in 2006/2007 from the North Carolina Arts Council, I was able to continue to produce work and start the book. It started out as more of a catalogue then grew into the 146-page book that it is today. I’m very excited to be able to share the things that inspired me to do many of the paintings and mixed-media works featured in the book.”

The book offers full-color pages showcasing Pearson’s stylish paintings with paragraphs introducing each work. A painting by Leslie Pearson is essentially a simple image or symbol done in either a wide palette or an edgy pairing of colors. Her work has a sharp dignity, seeming to hold a secret to life with each complex message.

“Closer and Closer,” a gritty image of birds on a telephone wire, shares the text style of a ransom note that spells out “getting closer and closer to the edge all the time.” The colors are the same as a dark bruise, with blues and blacks coexisting on the provocative canvas. The “bird on a wire” image is part of a large series that Pearson says symbolizes freedom and femininity.

“I have always been interested in the personal stories of people who have felt trapped, stifled, imprisoned, gripped with fear, caged and unable to live their lives the way they want,” she says, explaining that the paintings convey how the people eventually found freedom.

Pearson is also acutely aware of the Bible and how its stories seem to explain so many things about human nature and history. In her “Resonance and Relevance” chapter, paintings inspired by Biblical stories take center stage. “Naked Before the Fall” features Eve, sitting naked and exquisite with the infamous forbidden fruit in her hand. The chapter goes on to explain the fall of man that occurred after Adam and Eve ate the fruit and became aware of their nakedness. Pearson is clearly making a statement about how comfortable Eve felt in her own skin before her first moral dilemma darkened her innocence and freedom. She admits that she finds the stories somewhat personal, saying that some paintings “share a personal history and private reveries. Other works are general musings about love and relationships, and are often allegorical rather than literal.”

Off the Diving Board is a fascinating peek into the process of an artist unafraid to open her soul and share it with the world. Each chapter tells the story of a phase in Pearson’s artistic career, as well as a phase of her life.

“Using narrative as a counterpoint to imagery, my art explores life’s complexities and offers insight into the human condition, while primarily speaking through the experiences of women,” she says. “As I seek to understand myself and my role in this world, I look for parallels between my life and the lives of other people.”

Off the Diving Board, The Narrative Paintings of Leslie Pearson is available for sale ($29.99) through her blog at www.lesliepearson.blogspot.com or by contacting the artist at [email protected].