“The things we surround ourselves with are signifiers of who we are and who we want to be.”
Painted in 2017, Map of the Eastern Sierras is a visual and psychological feast, in which the viewer is invited to reflect on life and all its possibilities thanks to Pecis’ inimitable ability to evoke beauty in the mundane. Included in his 2017 solo exhibition Desert Paintings at the Halsey McKay Gallery, the current work is part of a set of paintings inspired by one of the artist’s trips to the Southern California desert. Largely drawn from snapshots taken during the trip, these paintings feature everyday objects that “…are chosen to serve as opportunities for explorations in the manipulation of paint, the recognition of colors, lines and patterns” (Halsey McKay Gallery, press release for Desert Paintings, July 8, 2017). Indeed, in Map of the Eastern Sierras, Pecis accomplishes all of this and more, making this canvas a particularly thrilling example of the wonderfully everyday still lifes for which the artist is best known.
Often compared to figurative colourists like Henri Matisse, David Hockney and his Californian contemporary Jonas Wood, Pecis’ work continues the long tradition of still life interiors in a personal and hyper-contemporary sense. With “an influencer’s eye for framing and a Fauvist’s love for color”, Map of the Eastern Sierras is a close-up, densely filled rendering of a surface littered with telltale signs of an ongoing road trip (T. Dafoe, “‘She’s Kind of Our David Hockney’: How Hilary Pecis Set the Art World Aflutter With Charming Paintings by life in Los Angeles, Artnet News, June 10, 2021). A dynamically patterned blanket dominates the upper left quadrant of the canvas in a movement that not only anchors the composition, but also allows the artist to flex his unwavering control over pattern, line and color, convincingly rounding off the folds of the fabric with a little more. only simple but calculated pictorial gestures. Interestingly, this particular patterned throw seems to have captivated the artist on more than one occasion, as it appears several times in Pecis’ recent work..
Typical of Pecis artwork, the canvas itself is devoid of any human beings – although the painting still exudes a deep sense of humanity. As Pecis said, “The things we surround ourselves with are signifiers of who we are and who we want to be” (H. Pecis, quoted in T. Dafoe, “‘She’s Kind of Our David Hockney’: How Hilary Pecis Sets the Art World Buzzing With Charming Los Angeles Life Paintings, Artnet News, June 10, 2021). In Map of the Eastern Sierras, an extensive fold-out regional map with visitor advice and trail routes, drinking vessels that somehow look like they’ve already been emptied, a Sharpie marker, an old Honda car key and a quartet of cash tickets brightly colored scratch off lottery all work together to captivate the viewer in a cloud of youthful nostalgia and freedom. The generic coffee mug design screams an independent roadside gas station, and one imagines that lottery tickets could be an ongoing game between fellow travelers (whoever they are), purchased from vending machines every stopping and in turn triggering small but exhilarating moments of hope and excitement along the way – what if? Whether or not this actually happened is beside the point; rather, the point is that, despite its very personal quality – a snapshot painting capturing a fleeting moment in the artist’s life – Map of the Eastern Sierras allows each viewer to bring their own memories, feelings and associations to the table. In its intentional lack of context but abundance of visual information, the painting is blessed with an inherent freedom for the viewer to interpret and engage with the painting in a personal way, resulting in a surprising sense of warmth. and familiarity at the very heart of Pecis. practice. In the words of Pecis, “For me, when a painting is less busy, I feel more pressure to have a ‘feeling’, whereas in a painting that has more noise and variation, I’m liberated in how I want to move in painting” (H. Pecis, quoted in an interview with EM Cheatham, March 12, 2020).