John Pearson

2019 Special Honoree

Pearson was born in Yorkshire, England, and studied at the Harrogate School of Art, Yorkshire (National Diploma of Design, 1960), the Royal Academy Schools, London (Certificate, R.A.S 1963), the Akademie der Bildende Kunst, Munich (1963–64, research fellow), and Northern Illinois University (M.F.A. 1966).

Before arriving to teach at Oberlin College in 1972, he taught at the University of New Mexico, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and the Cleveland Institute of Art. At Oberlin, he served as the Young-Hunter Professor of Art. John retored from teaching in 2014 but still occasionally works with students and lives in Oberlin. John’s wife, the artist Audra Skuodas (CAP 2010), a native of Lithuania, died in 2018.

Pearson’s early style reflects the European reaction to expressionism and artistic emotionalism in the form of a rational, systematic approach to art (often called the “New Tendency”). An heir to the tenets of Constructivism, he investigated color within a predetermined linear or grid system that eliminated options after the artist’s initial choices, thus also deferring any aesthetic judgment of the piece until it was finished. Pearson did not try to eliminate beauty from his work, however; as he has noted, “What counts is how it looks after I’m finished.  . . . I hope my paintings will slowly seduce.”

Indeed, this mathematically complex system offered multiple possibilities. In Pearson's early works, it was based on the straight line. Soon he began exploring the possibilities of geometrical shapes and restricted color schemes (Mondrian Series). In effect, the mathematical system itself became the subject of the painting. It was the system that Pearson was investigating. He took some of these experiments further by exploring three-dimensional sculptural systems, but found the time involved to realize the result took him away from his direct relationship with the work.  

Tonight, we honor John with a video about his life and his innovative and inspiring contributions to contemporary art. This video is part of a series we are filming so that we can link the artists’ biographies on the Cleveland Arts Prize website to short films that will give viewers an opportunity to see the prize winners talking about their work, their mentors and inspirations, their lives in Cleveland, winning the Arts Prize and more.

Congratulations, Mr. Pearson!