Pearce would like to straighten up her studio, her apartment, her car -- and she would take the time to get it done, but she's not sure where things go. She's not one of those people who innately knows the right places for things. Sure, the piles of stuff could be reorganized in drawers and on shelves, in glove compartments and trunks. But what goes where? How will it make sense? Pearce functions most naturally with everything around her at once, never shutting drawers on something that might prove useful.
In her drawings, which are included in the Late Show's Girls Behaving Badly show, and in the process she uses to make them, Pearce surrounds herself with seemingly unrelated objects that she finds compelling. She doesn't really need to understand why she puts a bird skull over someone's head or a high-heeled shoe in the lower-left corner of the page. That's just where her hand wants to put it.
The order in Pearce's drawings is not governed by what most people take for granted as obvious and correct anatomy (one pair of arms, one pair of hands, one species per body). She composes her drawings using powdered graphite on the smooth, flat back of a giant piece of wallpaper. For about six hours, Pearce smears graphite onto such pages in different gradations of light and dark, then finds forms inside the shadows -- forms she pulls out using erasers and pencils, never knowing why she is choosing to depict what she does. The source material in her studio -- skulls, boas and anything else she finds visually intriguing -- does guide her somewhat, and her sense of order creeps inexplicably out of the gray. Pearce's only limitation is the finite size of the piece of wallpaper.
Pearce has a hunch that her drawings have something to do with why she can't keep her soup cans lined up neatly in her pantry. "I'm trying to study it and understand it," she explains. "What compels people to do all the things they do throughout the day? Why don't I get up and put my soup cans in order?"
In one piece, she has drawn a woman's face and a bull's head side by side, encircled by a fine, barely visible pencil line. A ring through the bull's nose hooks onto a curtain that moves across the page, leaving the viewer to wonder what the curtain might be hiding. The woman has two sets of arms and many knuckly hands kneading the flesh on her stomach, which Pearce says represents "general clumsiness, just groping around in the dark.
"You see that ring through the bull's nose?" she continues. "It's there with the woman's face because they're sort of the same thing, and the bull is hooked into that curtain. It's sort of like being hooked into your own nature and just being with yourself wherever you go." But the hands still fumble around below, trying to organize and pick up and make sense of things, multiplying as if to increase the chances of finding something else to grab hold of. Ultimately, those clumsy hands just keep digging into the same old self.
In Pearce's work, skulls, overgrown vines and all kinds of other symbols of death exist alongside healthy, youthful bodies and even frog-eyed, embryonic-looking heads. Strangely, though, Pearce says the women in her drawings aren't any particular age.
When she was nine, Pearce witnessed a close relative grow sick and die over the course of a year. Initially understanding death as a slow, gradual, natural process -- as opposed to learning about it from the movies, where it's sudden, violent and explosive -- took the edge off of death for her. In her work, skulls and decay are not about something dark and creepy and haunting but are instead part of life, something that must be included in any portrait that claims to depict agelessness.
The idea that finality and completion help bring order to life also shows up at downtown's Grand Arts. That's where New York artist Patricia Cronin shows her just-finished Memorial to a Marriage, a sculpture she spent the past three years creating for herself and her domestic partner, painter Deborah Kass.
"There's a long tradition of artists designing their own graves," Cronin says, mentioning Jackson Pollack among others to explain that there's nothing unique about her project in that respect. What is unique is the reason it was necessary that she design a grave not only for herself but also for her partner.
The option of getting married in the usual way -- with a piece of paper, a few witnesses, white dresses and a big party -- has been legally ruled out for Cronin and Kass. That has not, however, removed their need to say forever.
Cronin realized that giving permanence to their life together was something she could do -- with marble. Having just been commissioned by a realtor to do small paintings of luxury houses, Cronin had been spending significant time on what she calls "all the homes I'll never have." But when she embarked on Memorial to a Marriage, which she calls her "dream piece," she finally started using her skills to create a real home for herself and Kass. "I got to thinking, If I can't have something official while I'm alive, and I can when I'm dead, I want to make something beautiful, elegant, permanent and heavy."
Memorial to a Marriage began as a watercolor depiction of Cronin and Kass lying together in bed, sheets folded and draped over their lower halves, feet sticking out at the bottom. Cronin -- who had never really been a sculptor -- went on to create a rough clay mockup of the statue. She then made a plaster mold from that mockup and digitally enlarged its image to map life-size coordinates appropriate for a tomb.
"I'm a good mimicker," Cronin says, as though that fully explains how she was able to move so gracefully from two-dimensional watercolors to three-dimensional sculpture. "I'd find a curl of hair or a finger or a gesture, and I'd keep working on it until I mimicked it and got it just right. And then I'd move on to the next body part."
The result is a stunning marble piece. Memorial to a Marriage depicts two nearly identical young women in a sleepy embrace, heads resting on modern-looking pillows, a fitted sheet beneath them. Their slumber is neither glorious nor agonizing; it is domestic and peaceful. It is a scene that people act out every night in real life, made legitimate and real by the fact that when the final rest comes, these women will still be together. That Cronin made a tomb is not about death. It's about life.
"I'm so thrilled. I'm so happy I made it," Cronin says. "It's really emotional. If I get hit with a bus now, everything will be OK."