Ruminating on the Self: Anne Austin Pearce’s Passport

While pondering on, and salivating before, Anne Austin Pearce’s  (NAP #84) most recent collection Passport I came to a striking conclusion: I’ve fallen prey to the reality television trap. As soon as television producers brainstormed the concept of reality TV I’ve been right behind them with a mental pad and pen ready to dissect the private lives of newly appointed public figures. But now I’m tired...Read more by Kansas City contributor, Halcombe Miller, after the jump!

Anne Austin Pearce | Behind the Red Velvet Curtains, 2011, ink, acrylic, colored pencil on paper, 40 x 50”

Actuality and reality TV are often two disparate images: why the disconnection between the private self and the public self? The disconnection exists because the public self and the private self, though they exist within one entity, generally steer clear of one another and remain loyal to one audience. But reality television has taken the public and private selves, smashed them both together, and flung them into living rooms everywhere. It’s simultaneously awkward and amazing for one reason: it’s the one opportunity we have to examine private selves publicly, and we can do so without regard for how these selves manifest in our own lives.  In the oversaturation of this television phenomenon we have moved closer to understanding this duality of selves at large, but we are no closer to understanding them within ourselves. Until our own lives are projected on a television screen we can have little understanding of where we draw the line between private and public, and when/where/how we decide to reveal these two aspects of our personalities.  And suddenly we find ourselves questioning the essence of ourselves: who am I?  From the safety of our sanctimonious couches we can answer this question for a myriad of reality stars, but, fortunately, there are other means to dissecting and understanding this duality minus the titillating awkwardness, and mind-numbing oversaturation, of staring at a television screen.

Anne Austin Pearce | A Great Dane, 2011, ink, acrylic, colored pencil on paper, 40 x 50”

Anne Austin Pearce provides a meditation on this phenomenon with her dual-portrait collection Passport. Each piece attempts to render and record the duality of the private and public selves within specific personalities (the only hint viewers have as to who each piece truly represents is the title, so we’re not without some sense of delicious mystery). It’s easy to trust Pearce’s work in this collection, to let the pieces fall into place, because it’s easy to discern the inner trust Pearce has within herself.  The work flows, the colors and shapes are creamy and oozing with texture, but the truth still rests on the surface. The viewer’s eyes can easily discern the mix of human skulls and profiles, the mixed bag of appendages, but because we are kept distant from the bits and pieces that create a recognizable face or figure we can more easily assess the dual roles Pearce is examining.

Anne Austin Pearce | Tip Toe on Soft Shoe, 2011, ink, acrylic, 40 x 50”

As the eye cascades the melding of selves in her piece Spring Showers the amount of faith imbedded within each stroke of her hand and flick of her wrist resonates off the paper. The piece has an almost tangible sense of vibration as the opposing portraits converge in a sea of wiry purple and yellow confetti. The darker portrait, oriented left, directs its gaze upward with a cheek of swirling yellows and purples that bleed into the face itself. Topped with a cap of claw-like pale blues that seem to pull the jaw line and cranium upward, the portrait faces a purple rope releasing a beady glitter of blues: the face assumes a dominant posture. The portrait oriented left is a greater part of the unified torso of the piece, and it directs its gaze down in a submissive stance. The portrait itself is encapsulated by webby neutrals, but supported by a vibrant stem that stands as the only patch of pulsating red. Aligned with the hidden bone structure of the submissive face, the rope of purple is perceived as the only strand holding the skull in place. Below the chin there is a breathy exhalation of creamy white, tipping the chin down passively.

Anne Austin Pearce | Spring Showers, 2011, ink, acrylic, colored pencil on paper, 40 x 50”

The portraits counter each other in starkly different positions, but they are unified with fringy pink and woven petal-like bits: two sides of the same coin. They beg viewers to question where the line is between the public self and private self, and to differentiate between the two. But this is yet another beautiful aspect of these sumptuous faces – the lack of clever editing, the absent laugh track that might push Pearce to make this assertion. Because, as our beloved reality television has proven, we don’t often know the difference within our own lives – why should these pieces be any different?


Anne Austin Pearce has had solo shows at the Work Gallery in Brooklyn, UNIT 5 Gallery and MOMo Studio in Kansas City, and Gallery 31 in Washington, DC. She has been included in group shows at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City and the Milo Gallery in Los Angeles, and she is the director of the Greenlease Gallery in Kansas City. Passport is currently on exhibition in a group show at the Bertrand Delacroix Gallery in New York City.

Halcombe Miller is a writer based in Kansas City where she masterminds the blog for Cara and Cabezas Contemporary  and scours Midwestern flea markets for ceramic animal figurines.