Home Arts Naudline Pierre on the ecstatic universe of her works on paper

Naudline Pierre on the ecstatic universe of her works on paper

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British Romantic artist William Blake called his spooky and frenetic illustrations “prophetic works”, describing the imagination as proof of “human existence itself”. This oracular heritage has found a new anchor in the work of Naudline Pierre, who translates her visions with a chimerical and chimerical gaze on black female subjectivity.

His historically informed artistic visions oscillate between nightmare and idyllic, mapping a rich and personal mythology haunted by characters as beautiful as they are disturbing. The daughter of a Haitian minister, Pierre focuses less on explicit Christian symbolism and more on the visual adrenaline of fanaticism, decoding ecstatic affect in a strange and wondrous new language of storytelling.

That’s not all there is, Pierre’s personal exhibition at the Drawing Center in New York (until September 3), marks a new development in his iconographic work. Organized by the centre’s chief curator, Claire Gilman, this exhibition is Pierre’s first to exclusively highlight his works on paper, a break with the luminous and saturated universe of his oil paintings. Dark walls and soft, creepy colors lend That’s not all there is the experiential character of an archive, inviting the viewer to discover its secrets through the glyphic residue of lost worlds. Each hatch, splash and trail communicates with its own sacred energy, universally connective in its burning specificity. Straight out of the standout solo artist stand at Frieze New York in May, That’s not all there is gleans the metaphysics of intuition, decolonizing the Delphic communiqué with plenty of malice to spare.

The works of Pierre, who lives in Brooklyn, have been featured in exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Shulamit Nazarian Gallery in Los Angeles, Espace Perrotin in Seoul, the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London and the Nicodim Gallery in Bucharest, among others. His work is in the permanent collections of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, among others.

The arts journal caught up with Pierre to discuss her experience creating the Drawing Center show, the inner workings of her practice, and the freedom she finds in concocting her stories.

Installation photo by Naudline Pierre That’s not all there isincluding thrones and wrought iron framework, at the Drawing Center Daniel Terna

The Art Newspaper: I wanted to ask you about your flame-licked frames. When in your practice did they start to appear, do you work with a manufacturer, what is their significance? Tell me everything.

Naudlin Pierre: My entry into metalwork manufacturing or crafting was for my show with James Cohan Last year. I wanted to make a wrought iron gate, so I did. Then I did these painted structures that needed plinths, and so I thought, why not use an iron form? The flame cutouts came from these initial prints I made; I knew I wanted to continue with the altarpiece format which I have also been doing since 2018. I did a very large one for my exhibition at the gallery last summer. It looks a lot like the drawing; even though I don’t weld these things, I do the drawing, I work with the architect, and then they turn my drawing into a technical plan that the manufacturers can understand. The finished product is this wonderful one-to-one; my drawing is one thing, then comes to life in an iron form.

Because I was doing an exhibition entirely dedicated to works on paper, I wanted to have something to counter how ephemeral paper can be. It made sense to me to continue with iron as part of the thought process. Having these two pieces in this arched frame with the flames brought together this very intense material with something a little lighter, and then spoke to the thrones that I also created for the space.

Your work has an internal logic of spirituality that is not directly apparent to the viewer, but doesn’t have to be either. Could you talk about this tension between the manifest and the clandestine in your practice?

With the work that I do, it’s such an intuitive process, but there’s a lot of things that I like to leave as a mystery to me, as the one doing it. I love that the viewer has to put these elements together, something that feels familiar with something that feels really foreign. Allowing things to fit together as they are is a very big part of my practice. Yes, I can walk away from something and look at it critically or think about it through the prism of art history and so on, but when I’m doing the work, I’m just doing the work. I feel like a vessel, as if I received messages from a parallel universe.

And it can be seen through many different lenses, not just spiritual and religious. I have the impression that these characters let themselves be revealed to me because they carry messages for me and for others and it helps me to know that they live elsewhere, do something else, have an experience of material different from mine. There’s something so special about allowing something to be what it is. I think there is freedom in doing something, in understanding what is in it. I don’t feel like I need to give myself this huge responsibility to say something. I prefer to just feel it and do something that goes beyond language. I do this work for me.

How do you think your work engages or does not engage with the institutional discourse on identity?

Above all, I see my work as a means of freedom, escape and potential. I try not to take on the responsibility of making a statement because I think the fact that I exist and work and seek freedom East the statement. I’m here to create images and give meaning to my life for the people I love and for myself and make it move. What I think about is how I felt that day, and what I wanted to feel, my interactions – I think about my own experience and try to be authentic that way.

I try to keep these questions out of the studio because in the end it will only blur your vision, at least for me. And there’s so much to fight just to be able to make a picture. It’s my sacred space to escape and connect with the things I see and just hang out with those beings who have visited me and created this world to explore. I’m more interested in exploring their world than what’s wrong with mine.

Naudlin Pierre, This I know is true2023 Courtesy of Naudline Pierre and James Cohan, New York. Photograph by Paul Takeuchi

How does the focus on works on paper in this exhibition impact or change your approach to your practice or the way these characters and stories speak to you?

I paint intuitively, but a painting is different. The material is different. I use oil. You can kind of mix things up and cover things up and scrape things up. But it also feels like the substrate is different and carries a different feeling, whereas the paper feels, at least with this exposure, like a very big expansion of the game, the chance and the unknown of a different way of painting or sculpting. My process opened; I didn’t think so much; it could be just like a snapshot. It’s just one thing. I tear it up and hold it against me – things appear to me from ink swatches. And I think that was fed back into my painting practice, that’s for sure.

Drawing and painting on paper has always been part of my life, but it was more like they were notes to me, no one had to see them. I started creating these and got some feedback and then I was like, “Okay, maybe I can do more and see how I can work with this material in a way that gives me the feeling of being able to share it with people.” Because it’s really intimate, at least for me. With space, Claire [Gilman] and I really wanted to lean into how comfortable and tight it is. It was like, “Let’s spend some time here, let’s get closer.” So I think having dark walls and lower lighting and hanging some of the works up high created a movement in the space that works well.

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