Vielmetter Los Angeles is excited to present our third solo exhibition with Los Angeles based artist Esther Pearl Watson, “A Luminous Vision” which will be on view in Gallery 3 from March
11 through April 22, 2023. Watson, known for her intimately detailed diaristic paintings, culls from her own memories and an archive of emails from family members transmuting her personal history of caregiving for her mentally ill loved ones into fantastical landscapes. Dappled with starry night skies, cascading comets, and sparkling UFOs, Watson’s memory paintings incorporate curious snippets of emails from her family members, contextualizing her compositions with an eccentric narrator. Of these works Watson describes her attempt to process the feeling of being grounded in reality whilst dealing with her family members’ mental states which can feel otherworldly. The exhibition shares a title with an immersive installation inspired by her father’s descriptions of his angelic companions’ tour through an interstellar landscape.
Beauty makes me hopeless. I don’t care why / anymore I just want to get away.
-Anne Carson, “On Hedonism”
Watson’s penchant for narrative can be both devastating and tongue-in-cheek. She reminds me of the Pre-Raphaelites, who also wanted to hop on a spaceship destined for elsewhere (Heaven). The pathos of, say, John Everett Millais’s painting Ophelia (1851-1852) lies not in the power of the Shakespearean story it references, but in its cringey investment in allegory and its feminized seriousness. Ophelia floats away, perhaps about to be probed, and we weep self-consciously and bathetically. Indeed, we probe ourselves, swiping tears away, from side to side, like the lone, horizontal cyclist in Watson’s We need to Build underground shelters on the Moon [IL1] (2023).
Moreover, 19th century painting was often influenced by literature, and we could say that the Pre-Raphaelites, so invested in painterly retellings of poetry and myth, could be categorized as conceptual artists using art and text. The same could be said for Watson, whose interest in semiotics is frequently minimized as a mere reference to a folk vernacular. Writing what you mean without the opacity lent by criticality or the pretentiousness of memoir is difficult and necessary. It is a solitary venture. Painting and writing for God’s enjoyment, as the Pre-Raphaelites did, or for the enjoyment of little green men, is an act of faith that your shouts in the wilderness are received by somebody, somewhere, miraculously, like a letter to a lover whose only address you know is one you shared many, many years ago. You might only know the city and state, planet and galaxy, the antecedent but not the referent. There is so much space between images, words, and bodies, and they are crossed out from time to time, as with Watson’s earnest scrawls.
Text by William J. Simmons