Philip Pearlstein

Nude on Striped Hammock


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Philip Pearlstein born 1924
Etching and aquatint on paper
Image: 597 × 655 mm
Purchased 1986

Catalogue entry

P77170 Nude on Striped Hammock 1974

Etching and aquatint 597 × 655 (23 1/2 × 25 1/4) on wove copperplate paper 761 × 820 (30 × 32 1/4); plate-mark 600 × 656 (23 5/8 × 25 3/4); printed by Orlando Condeso and Nancy Brokapp at Orlando Condeso Workshop, New York and published by Allan Frumkin Gallery, New York in a edition of 100 with 10 artist's proofs and 3 printer's proofs
Inscribed ‘Philip Pearlstein’ below image b.r., ‘Nude on Striped Hammock’ and ‘55/100’ below image b.l.
Purchased at Christie's, New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Lit: William C. Landwehr (ed.), The Lithographs and Etchings of Philip Pearlstein, exh. cat., Springfield Art Museum, Missouri 1978, p.59, repr. (col.)

‘Nude on a Striped Hammock’ depicts a woman lying in a hammock in the artist's studio, with one foot on the floor. A section of skirting board can be seen in the upper lefthand corner. The hammock is suspended from two points beyond the lefthand and upper edges of the image. The vantage point is very close to the model, who is viewed from above looking down her head and upper body. The room and model are pale brown and the hammock has green, yellow and red stripes. The pale green shadows on the floor were cast by three separate light sources.

In conversation with the compiler on 27 May 1990, Pearlstein said that he had made prints since the early 1960s. Nudes depicted in the studio, with furniture and vibrantly coloured, complex patterned textiles, are a recurring subject in his art. His models usually sit for him once a week, for about six hours a day with a break for lunch. Frequently they are depicted with closed eyes, because they have other jobs and sitting for him enables them to sleep. He said, 'this is fine, so long as they sit still and give me the opportunity to perform a painting. My only demand is that they should adopt a pose they can hold easily.

He has made four prints and three paintings depicting nudes and hammocks and was most closely involved with this subject in 1974–5 and 1977–8. In 1974 he made a lithograph entitled ‘Two Nudes with Hammock’ (repr. Landwehr 1978, p.35), which depicts one model lying on the floor alongside the skirting board, near another in a hammock. In the lithograph ‘Girl on Hammock’, 1978 (repr. ibid., p.47), a model lies curled up in a hammock. Pearlstein's most recent work on this theme is an etching with aquatint ‘Nude in a Hammock’, 1984 (P02990), acquired as a gift from the artist in 1990.

He made two paintings of nudes and hammocks in 1974, ‘Two Female Models on Hammock and Floor’ (repr. Matthew Slatin, ed., Philip Pearlstein: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Art Museum, Milwaukee 1983, no.76 in col.), with its preparatory wash drawing (repr. ibid., no.75 in col.) and ‘Two Female Models on Hammock and Stool’ (repr. Sanford Sivitz Shaman, Philip Pearlstein: Paintings to Watercolours, exh. cat., University of Northern lowa Gallery of Art, Cedar Falls 1983, no.4). In 1977–8 he painted a third work, ‘Two Nudes with Hammock’, in which he depicted two nudes lying in the hammock (repr. Milwaukee exh. cat., 1983, no.98 in col.).

Pearlstein said that Marcia Garibaldi, who is depicted in P77170, did not model for other works he made in 1974. The hammock, used in all of his works from the 1970s, belonged to another model who had brought it back from a visit to Guatemala and hung it up in Pearlstein's studio. He said, ‘it ended up getting worn out through use’ in 1977–8. He confirmed that the colours of the hammock in P77170 were the actual colours of the hammock. He depicted a different hammock in P02990.

In conversation Pearlstein said that the disproportionate scale of the body parts was exaggerated by his proximity to the model. ‘I work really close to the models and it is a matter of recession, so what is closest to me, comes out larger.’ A common characteristic of Pearlstein's hammock images is the cropping of the figures and the fixing points of the hammocks. In a text written in 1972, the artist explained the importance of scale and cropping in his compositions. ‘Since my basic premise is that the figures are the main forms of my compositional structures, I see the arms and legs and torsos primarily as directional movements, their con-toured areas as the major shapes on my page or canvas, it doesn't matter where they stop. That the cropping seems to echo photographic cropping is accidental. Finding the scale is the essential problem’ (Philip Pearlstein, ‘A Statement’, in Philip Pearlstein: The Human Figure, exh. cat., Gimpel Fils Gallery 1975, [p.3]). In conversation with the compiler he said that he liked depicting models in hammocks because he loved the way lying in them ‘seemed to turn the body into an object. It is different when somebody is sitting, because in hammocks they become suspended in a totally unnatural way’.

The triple shadows in P77170 were cast by three lamps set eighteen inches apart. Pearlstein always lights his models in this way, using bulbs which simulate daylight. Until the late 1980s Pearlstein always worked under artificial light conditions.

The floor in P77170 is pale green. The artist renovated his studio in New York's 88th Street in a makeshift way by laying down plywood over the broken floor. He periodically changed the colour of the plywood, which in 1974 was painted a pale apple-green. He said, ‘it was hard to find a colour which would go with the figure, for instance, blue would have been like a swimming pool’. The skirting board depicted in P77170 appears frequently in Pearlstein's work between 1968 and the mid-1980s, when he moved to a new studio in New York. The tapering section running between the lefthand and top edges of P77170 suggests an exaggerated sense of recession dictated by the close vantage point of the artist looking downwards at the model, combined with a narrow field of view.

Pearlstein usually worked on a different image each day, using different models. However, he did not have space in his studio to build several settings and leave them for a period of time. Before he moved studio in the early 1980s he had always had to dismantle the arrangement of objects, which was why many of his earlier works, including P77170, depict a sparse and simple setting.

Pearlstein said that P77170 and his other prints of the 1970s took on average six to seven months - as long as his paintings - to complete. He did not regard prints as preparatory works, although he realised that some could be ‘sustained being made much larger’ as paintings. He followed a similar procedure for both, working on the plates ‘directly from life, from the model. I try not to even be sketchy. I draw slowly rather than fast with the outlines drawn first’. He incorporated errors, in order to ‘make the best of it’, because, he said, ‘errors become part of the texture’ of the image. He said he was ‘more concerned with the idea of realism and since it is the idea, I tolerate my errors’.

In his letter to the compiler Pearlstein explained the technical procedures used to make P77170:

I worked very closely with the printer technician and a lot of what I have burnished did not print, because I could not press hard enough. And he would go over what I did in the burnishing afterwards. Mostly it was with the transitions between tones, where there is a sharp contrast. I think there were five bites on the key plate, which would be the brown one: five degrees from white to dark. There are five degrees towards dark, each one being a separate bite, with the darkest areas being the hair and the shadow under the bent leg. Then the yellow, red and green were separate [steel-faced copper] plates. I added the colours, one at a time, guessing at how much of each colour is in each area. When you get involved with more than four plates in etchings, you get something called offset. A lot of the ink from the first impression is removed by the second, then third and fourth plates and you have to take that into account. One of the things that intrigues me about realism is exactly problems like that, though it is something that nobody else would worry about.

The artist has approved this entry.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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