PEARL BLAUVELT – McDERMOTT & McGOUGH
Organized by Bob Nickas
May 18 – June 30, 2007
A large group of drawings by the self-taught artist Pearl Blauvelt (1893-1987) will be shown alongside works on paper and paintings by the collaborative team McDermott & McGough. The pairing of artists and the selection of works was made by Bob Nickas.
Pearl Blauvelt’s drawings, discovered by chance in her former home in Northeast Pennsylvania, date
from the 1940s/’50s. It’s clear that she drew what she wanted: clothes, furniture, a big house, cars, and
money. For all their naiveté, there are some astounding moves: houses are transparent — clothes and the
body as well — perspective is reversed, scale highly skewed. She flattens interior walls so that all are visible
at the same time, as if seen from above. This is homespun cubism with x-ray vision. Done mostly on ruled notebook paper, these drawings call to mind the image of a child at her school desk, bored by the class and letting her imagination flow. Pearl Blauvelt’s style may appear childlike, but there is a crude sophistication to her composition and draftsmanship. Repetition of commercial items alternately gives rise to abstraction and suggests a folky Pop art sensibility. There is text in most of the drawings, and she often identifies every single
object — each rug, each pair of stockings, and so on — a clear indication that she was copying images from mail order catalogs. This relates her work to the use appropriation that is common among outsider artists, not only
referring to the everyday world in which she lived, but to the one she dreamed would be hers.
David McDermott & Peter McGough, working collaboratively since 1980, consider their art to be part of a larger time experiment, one which involves every aspect of their life. Over the past twenty-six years they have produced
paintings, works on paper, and photographs in the style of various periods, and dated accordingly. A painting made
in 1989 might be dated 1879. Cyanotypes from the late 1980s recall the work of F. Holland Day from the early 1900s.
In a series of “time maps,” dates are interlocked as if they were the pieces of a geographic puzzle. A number of
exhibitions and works have referred to specific events, such as the great San Francisco earthquake, or to the
repressive persecution of the Nazi era — The Lust that Comes from Nothing (1998-2003). They have represented
in their work and in their life the figure of the dandy, the flaneur, the artist who merges his art and life, and for whom
humor is a means to wry social commentary. At the beginning of their career, McDermott & McGough famously insisted:
“We’ve seen the future, and we’re not going.”
McDermott & McGough have exhibited widely in galleries and museums in Europe and the United States. They live and
work in Dublin and New York.
How to Look at Outsider Art
by Lyle Rexer
When is restriction a form of liberation? For Pearl Blauvelt, the very narrowness of her world, limited to the shop where she worked, the house where she lived in western Pennsylvania, and a handful of scenes from her immediate
purview, apparently gave her all she needed to inspire a detailed, painstaking, and faithful inventory of the contents
of daily life. She might be thought of as a female James Castle (1900-1977), the self-taught artist from rural Idaho
born deaf and mute, who meticulously rendered all the houses he lived in.
The mystery of drawings like these is that they seem to arise out of two simultaneous and diametrically opposed
impulses: a tentativeness in the face of life, which encourages one to make the bond with reality a bit more secure
and intimate, and the small pleasure of simply being here and showing it - drawing as a kind of existential tinkering.
Yet Blauvelt has something else, a draftsman's determination to get the picture right, complete, and precise. In drawing
after drawing, she works out spatial relationships with a restricted compositional geometry as she tries to force a three-
dimensional world into two dimensions. Like Castle, she seems to have taken her cue from her materials, often using
lined paper, which helped her order her compositions. She lacks Castle's spontaneity, but we can almost feel her
satisfaction at putting things in their exact relation.
Blauvelt's rendering of stockings for sale, copied from a Sears and Roebuck or Montgomery ward catalogue, possesses
the antique charm of folk art, of bygone times, but her eye for pattern and repetition, for purely abstract qualities that
she carefully reinforces, gives her work an appeal beyond nostalgia - and perhaps a slight chill. She celebrates unpopulated
spaces and serendipitous order.
Above all, she offers glimpses of a perfection that seems to lie outside of time and circumstance, although it captures them
exactly. Blauvelt lets us know right were we are: in that place, among those things, at that time, and for eternity.
- Lyle Rexer