by Steve Desroches
Top Image: Guerilla (The Kiss) Backstage at PAAM 1980, Provincetown, by Edie Pearlman
It’s one of those gray spring days that can’t make up its mind to be pleasant or let the chill riding on the wind take over. Bunny Pearlman’s patio at her Stable Path home is all set for the coming warmer weather. Squash will grow over a new decorative arch and flowers will soon climb the fence. It’s all about to bloom, says Pearlman with an enthusiasm that feels as perennial as her garden. Her dog Rico, a former beach dog she rescued from Puerto Rico, sits down at her side and then glances to her as she reaches down without looking to scratch the top of his head. Life is reemerging as it always does.
It’s been a long year, says Pearlman, with political tumult and the lingering pandemic, which do we dare say is waning, at least here? She recalls the last pandemic, when HIV and AIDS turned Provincetown into a ghost town for several years because no one wanted to come here out of fear. This one was the opposite, with people filling up usually empty homes creating a more brightly lit Provincetown than usual this past winter. She shrugs in that “that’s life” kind of way. As an artist in her 80s, she’s not only seen a lot, she’s created just about as much. An upcoming retrospective at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum pulls the chord on that kind of illuminated thinking about life, work, love, and loss. As she settles in a beautiful rocking chair decorated with inlay she returns to the phrase “the loaded brush”, both a literal term for when the bristles are full of paint and a more poetic definition for the action about to happen as the artist makes a move.
“It’s kind of a metaphor for everything you do in life,” says Pearlman. “It’s who you are, the brush strokes you leave behind. It’s the marks you make. I’m still moving and still making those marks.”
As Pearlman tucks her long, white hair behind an ear she smiles. A large curio cabinet filled with the kind of artifacts you find in an anthropology museum punctuates quite well that she is a woman of the world. She traveled all over, and she’s a New Yorker “by birth and inclination” she adds, so life in a small town always confuses her. But nevertheless, for many collective years, tiny Provincetown has been her home. All that she’s seen and experienced go through the prism of her art, something she considers a meditation as she tries to transcribe, “the record of speed as it travels.” That effort will be on display at PAAM as The Last Leopard – Avoiding Extinction opens this week.
Curated by fellow artist and friend Bert Yarborough, the exhibition has been several years in the making as works from her career were located and contemplated for inclusion. Yarborough met Pearlman in Provincetown in 1980 and later joined her small, yet illustrious list of artists she represented when she owned and operated the East End Gallery, where she also showed Arthur Cohen, Kahn and Selesnick, and Tabitha Vevers. As he sits in his North Truro studio, surrounded by his own impressive work and those in progress, he’s delighted that even long-time followers of her work will see something new in this show as much of the work has never been exhibited in Provincetown before.
“We’ve had a lot of great talks putting this together,” says Yarborough. “It’s been, I don’t know, just so fulfilling to sit in her garden and talk about her work with all the stress and anxiety going on in the world. Turmoil may have been the backdrop in the planning, but the work embraces changes she seen over the years. It somehow fits with what we’ve all been going through, which is unprecedented, for my generation, for any living generation.”
Yarborough owns a small piece by Pearlman titled Provincetown 2000, a soothing watercolor of a sailboat in the harbor with Long Point Lighthouse in the background. He frequently contemplates the work for its “light, space, and stillness” and it was one of the first to be included in the show. Pearlman laughs while coming upon it as she thumbs through the exhibition catalog, designed by her daughter Jahna Rain with photography by her other daughter Provincetown select board member Lise King. She chuckles because she doesn’t remember painting it as it sold so quickly and didn’t spend much time in the gallery and thus her mind. Another that’s life shrug.
Her innate wanderlust goes beyond travel as it includes her methods and styles, too. Her mother fled the pogroms and the approaching Cossacks in Ukraine arriving in New York, but later moving to California. She takes a sepia-toned photo off the shelf of her mother taken at Masterland Studios on Myrtle Street in Brooklyn. She points at her mother’s bohemian garb, saying the restless gypsy soul she has comes from her. In one way or another we’re all avoiding extinction she says referring to the title piece of the show. Literally or metaphorically, its human nature to leave a record to say we were here, a record of what we did, who we loved, and what we lost. That title piece features a lounging leopard, inspired by a story she read in Israeli newspaper Haaretz while she was living there about what was believed to be that last one of its species in the Judean Desert. We can all identify a bit with the leopard from time to time, she says. And each brushstroke is a new creation, a fight against extinction.
“The deeper you go the more there is,” says Pearlman. “Not less, but more, more, more. It gives you strength.”
The Last Leopard – Avoiding Extinction is on exhibition at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, 460 Commercial St., from May 7 through June 27. In keeping with current public health protocols, an appointment to view the show is necessary. To do so visit paam.org. Masks or a face covering are required while in the museum. For more information call 508.487.1750.