A New Landscape for Art
U.K.-born artist says he perceives the world differently here in Canada
BY TERESA PITMAN
|Landscapes can be remarkably beautiful yet dangerous, says fine art professor Martin Pearce. Photo by Martin Schwalbe|
Prof. Martin Pearce, Fine Art and Music, can't tell you if artists are born or made, but he knows that, in his case, the desire to produce art started when he was very young.
“I loved to draw from an early age — I've just always done it,” says Pearce. “As I got older, I looked for ways to learn about the various disciplines.”
That desire to learn more led Pearce — born and raised in the United Kingdom — to earn his MA at the Royal College of Art in London, England. But it was his move to Canada in the 1980s that he credits with expanding his artistic horizons.
“I can't know for sure, but I believe my work has developed more here than it would have if I'd stayed in the U.K.”
Pearce says he'd always admired North American painting but didn't really understand it.
“When I came here, I got it. The light is different in Canada — flatter and harder. We literally perceive the world differently.”
He put that new perception to work in his paintings and drawings, which have continued to evolve over the years. Initially, his interest in the various qualities of light in this country drew him to abstract work.
“Then I started to draw specific structures to show how they are revealed and defined by the light.”
From this work, Pearce moved to what he calls “impossible visions.” These are highly artificial landscapes juxtaposing items that don't actually exist together in real life — such as Niagara Falls surrounded by Italian buildings and architecture.
Today, “I draw more than I paint,” he says. “My most recent work includes both drawings and paintings of various ages of constructed urban environments — cities and quarries. The cities rise above the surface of the earth, and the quarries go below.”
Pearce creates these projects using deliberate layering of materials. The paintings, for example, have layers of paint and wax that are repeatedly laid down, then scraped away. For his drawings, he first arranges a large number of photocopied pictures on the canvas. Applying paint stripper to the backs of the copies transfers the ink onto the canvas; once it dries, he uses conte crayon on top of the patterns left behind. The drawings are on a large scale — often 10 feet wide — and take more than two months to complete.
“The images are drawn over and become blended, and there's no single perspective or horizon,” he says.
Two of the pieces Pearce is currently working on are landscapes that feature strong artificial colours.
“I want to show how landscapes can be remarkably beautiful yet dangerous at the same time — that pollution sometimes brings in these bright artificial colours that are actually attractive but at the same time hazardous.”
As passionate about teaching as he is about his art, Pearce says he enjoys watching his students learn.
“What they do in the art studio is much different from what they do everywhere else. Students are used to instant images. Many of them use Photoshop, and most of them are really fast and good at it. But in the studio, there they are with a pencil in their hand and a model sitting 12 feet away. They have to create the image of the model on the paper, and it's a slow process. As they work, their whole perception of the world is changed.”
Pearce adds that teaching also helps him as an artist.
“Because I'm teaching, I constantly have to keep up to date, keep returning to the basics and keep all aspects of the artistic discipline in mind. That process is very rewarding and useful.”
Appointed an assistant professor at U of G this summer, he says he's especially pleased to be teaching at Guelph. “I've taught here on and off since 2000, and I know this is a remarkable school. The faculty are superb, and they are committed to continually revising and improving the program and adapting it to the changing needs of students.”