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Last weekend I met Phillip Pearlstein. By accident. I’m a member of the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg Florida, and somehow I missed the date of the cocktail party heralding the opening of the exhibition of his work. I know it’s hard to believe – that I would miss a cocktail party! But toddling around the museum the following day – there he was, on his way to give a gallery talk. And I bumped into him. No, really, I did (honestly, I hadn’t even had a single glass of wine, not even a teeny one). And I apologized, and he told me about the talk, and one thing led to another…..

And the talk was pretty amazing. Influences? Mondrian, his friend Al Held and frescoes from Herculaneum. His old roommate, Andy Warhola? 18th and 19th century European art? Not so much.

And the big question – does he work from photographs? Nope. The way he put it, “I decided to turn myself into a camera”. He will sometimes do a watercolour first., but just as a point of reference (gee, I’d like to see those). Then if he likes it, he’ll call the models back and do a painting – he’s kind of working, usually, on 2 or three at once. Standing on a bunch of boxes of different sizes for the big ones. Painting from 10-4 3 or 4 days a week. In his studio (because he wants the light to be consistant). Oh and did I mention that he’s doing prints with Graphicstudio at USF, Tampa? At almost 90 years old? Whew! It makes me want to lie down and have a little nap just thinking about it!

The exhibition, “Phillip Pearlstein’s People, Places, Things” is called the most comprehensive retrospective ever organized of his work. Organized by the MFA and Patterson Sims, (President of the Board of Independent Curators International and formerly of little known institutions such as MOMA, the Whitney, and Director of the Montclair Art Museum ) it has 60 works – paintings, drawings and prints (including some amazing portraits). Wonderful show. No, really. And a great catalogue – a bargain at $25. He signed one for me – and you know, if you asked him, I bet he’d sign one for you.