James Sterling Pitt
The On and On at the Artist’s Television Access
The blind have dogs, the anxious have pills, the lost have religion, and artist James Sterling Pitt has a dead houseplant, a lantern, a Bad Brains record, a book on Bas Jan Ader, and a geode. To passersby the objects in the Artist Television Access window are an odd collection of ephemera, but to James they are all small pieces of a larger coping mechanism. These objects, recreated in wood, clay, and paint, recall lost memories, solidify new ones, and as Pitt puts it, “Just make sense”.
After an automobile accident in early 2007 left James Sterling Pitt physically and neurologically disabled he turned to recreating once familiar objects as a way of putting the pieces back together. Unable to read at his former ability, Pitt chose to spend time with these precious texts by studying their aesthetic details and physical sophistication. For his solo exhibition The On and On in the window of the Artist Television Access, Pitt displays several recognizable objects alongside several abstracted sculptures on a large wooden shelf. Curator Liz Wing explains, “The title The On and On comes from a comment made by the artist's brother while they were out hunting for records. Pitt's brother remarked ‘it just goes on and on,’ referring to the endless activity of record collecting and the sensation of always having another record to find. Pitt felt that this quote encapsulated his practice and mode of working.”
To gain an accurate perspective on Pitt’s current style and practice it is important to be acquainted with his work prior to the accident. Pitt’s previous work existed in a more formal space in his choice of thesis, material, and visual style. His work once addressed themes such as the distillation of photographic representation into abstract vocabulary and the abstraction of vivid memory. The pieces were constructed of materials such as MDF and resins, and could be visually compared to artists like Franz Ackermann. Ironically Pitt’s work has always employed memory as its central thesis, but instead of abstracting concrete memory he is now utilizing his work to give permanence to abstracted memory. His materials have morphed from that of an industrial manufacturer to that of a humble carpenter. Working now with scrap plywood, plaster, and acrylic paint, Pitt’s current pieces can be compared more accurately to the work of Richard Tuttle.
Another device that Pitt has employed recently is the perpetual making of lists and diagrams in an effort to document even the most inconsequential events that transpire throughout his day, much like the minutes of a meeting. Although many of us make lists, shopping lists, reading lists, etc., they are usually reminders of future actions to take place; for Pitt these lists are reminders of the past and even present. While this part of Pitt’s process is reminiscent of artists such as Simon Evans and Andrew Kou, his lists are arguably of more necessity. They are a mode of survival, a beacon of permanence in a foggy and turbulent past, present, and future.
It is important to note that while the majority of Pitt’s work consists of recognizable objects that manifest themselves in the shapes of books, records, plants, rugs, and stones, these objects are interrupted by completely abstracted sculptures. The way these abstract wood sculptures came to fruition is opposite of those of the early modern art movements. Rather than fracturing common objects and observations, Pitt receives these abstract forms in dreams. Pitt then recreates these forms to give them physical weight hoping that they will in turn give him the gift of physical, tangible memory: a face, a name, a voice, a nude descending a staircase, a blue guitar, anything.
Pitt’s method of displaying the work in The On and On truly gives the individual pieces a collective life. Arranged in cubicles on large plywood shelves, Pitt’s objects begin to more closely resemble the findings of an excavation than common objects from his personal life. Realizing the importance that these objects hold collectively, because of their depiction of a specific moment in Pitt’s life and recovery process, he has decided to treat the individual pieces as a whole. All sales and future exhibition of the work will happen only as a complete set.
These curious objects rest quietly on their shelves in a small window, lit by a single spotlight, exposed to the bustling foot-traffic on Valencia Street. Their presence commands a pause, if only brief. This pause is the true power of James Sterling Pitt’s work. For the viewer, as well as Pitt himself, a dead houseplant, a lantern, a Bad Brains Record, a book on Bas Jan Ader, and a geode arranged in just the right way, in just the right space is just enough to create a pause in the “on and on” of it all.