Proustian Connections in Northern California: Hearne Pardee
Fellow painter Sandy Walker visits the artist’s studio at UC Davis on the eve of his Bowery Gallery exhibition in New York City.
Hearne Pardee, who has been showing regularly at the Bowery Gallery since 1983, opens a show of new work there November 28. I visited his studio near the University of California Davis campus earlier this month.
Davis is a relatively unremarkable suburban college town. Hot and dry, the temperatures in the Sacramento Valley hover around 100 in the summer months.
Pardee discovered painting and his first and most enduring master, Cézanne, while an undergraduate at Yale in the 1960s. Pardee is an artist for whom masters and mentors play a profound, enduring role in the way he describes and pursues his project. He constantly invokes the example of artists he most admires, including the greats as well as teachers from Yale, the New York Studio School and elsewhere. But already at Yale he had studied in the Albers pedagogical tradition while pursuing parallel interests in natural history, anthropology and literature (Proust and Dante were high on his list).
By the age of 30 the groundwork for the issues he is still pursuing in the new body of work had already been established. Since 1972, he has worked directly outside, like his hero Cézanne. And like Cézanne, he paints more than simple appearances. Hearne is most attracted to urban scenes, what he describes as “everyday working class landscape,” merging his interest in plein air observation with his interest in what he calls the “psychological neighborhood,” the anthropology and natural history of a place, with his Proustian connections of memory and place.
Pardee has now worked in Davis for longer than 10 years, prior to which are many more years working in similarly unremarkable suburban environments. He worked first in Maine, then in Virginia, and finally in Connecticut (along with sojourns in New Mexico and California) as he and his wife, painter Gina Werfel, moved from one teaching post to another. In each place he managed to indentify an artist that place reminded him of, and from whom he felt he could learn something specific to that place. Maine equaled Marsden Hartley, for instance, New Mexico Georgia O’Keefe. Wherever he was, Hearne seemed to be in dialogue with this elected artist as well as the place.
When Pardee arrived at Davis he seemed ready to move his work to another level. He recognized that he was surrounded by a motif ideally suited to his needs and taste. Davis is a town of mostly middle class families on tree-lined streets where mature trees cast shadows across well-maintained lawns and California-style houses. One-story ranch homes populate winding streets and cul-de-sacs and offer a respite from the sharp and hot light of the Sacramento Valley. The artist speaks of wandering these neighborhoods until something strikes him – anything from a combination of colors and forms to a deep personal resonance, a psychological ambiance of what he calls “everyday light.”
But a new aspect emerging in Pardee’s most recent work work adds a new layer, beyond plein air, in the artistic process. After his open-air observations he returns to the studio to add a different sort of color, color made from pieces of paper in generic shapes. He hand paints and then collages pieces of paper onto the surface of his established image. He likes to emphasize that this is a matter of “construction with color,” unlike the “impressionist sensation.” And this is true. The additions of cut paper do look like Cézanne’s brushstrokes and are the placement of “one color next to another” in a purely abstract sense. “One color influences another,” Hearne says. In the process he moves away from observation and works with the materials and the surface. In this way he is returning to his roots, both to Albers’ teaching as well as his love of Cézanne. What he seeks is the distinctiveness of motif as each painting – no longer a “hodgepodge of colors” but a painting made into something more personal – approaches memories of things past.
Literally drawing from earlier work, the new work is also an amalgam of old and new as he now actually paints over pictures started many years ago as well as scans of objects personally important to him such as the interior of his studio or urban scenes he has now worked with for years.
Hearne Pardee’s work is about color, about place, about his reverence for his predecessors, as well as about his desire to continue, expand, and move forward the traditions of painting and of the art he so admires.
Hearne Pardee: Visual Resources runs from November 27 to December 22 at the Bowery Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, Suite #404.