A Man of Letters Artist turns calligraphy into statement

Saturday, December 8, 2012
Charles Pearce is a painter/calligrapher who incorporates words into his works, which are now on exhibit at Main Stage Creative Community Center.

Charles Pearce has worked as a calligrapher in London and New York. When he worked for Decca Records, he did the lettering for the first Rolling Stones album. He was a senior lettering consultant for American Greetings. But it was what a girlfriend once told him that led to his current career.

"She said I had so many axes to grind, why didn't I write my own thoughts, that reflected what I felt about things?" Pearce said.

Pearce is a painter who incorporates calligraphy into his work. His current exhibit, at Main Stage through Dec. 22, has pieces that incorporate words from a Dylan Thomas poem and from Yevtushenko's World War II poems that Shostakovich used to create a choral symphony.

"It was the music first of all that appealed to me," Pearce said. "Although the paintings are quite colorful, the whole symphony is rather dark."

Pearce, who was born and raised in Leek, England, was 14 when he heard Emlym Williams recite Dylan Thomas poem's "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night." For a triptych that is in the exhibit, Pearce uses words from the poem, each piece capturing the spirit of a group of indigenous people. An earlier piece of Pearce's that has since sold was titled "Seeing Red."

"It was a total diatribe about what's wrong with society," Pearce said.

It was a book on the history of Illuminated manuscripts that got Pearce interested in lettering when he was 8 years old. Fascinated by all kinds of decorated lettering, he started copying them in pencil, he said. He also loved Victorian brasses in churches, and copied the letters from the memorials. When he was 9, he took the 11-plus exam (usually taken right before the 12th birthday) and was accepted to Tettenhall College, a boarding school in Wolverhampton. The art teacher was a calligrapher and introduced Pearce to the tools of the trade.

"By the time I was 11, I had prepared vellum, made a book and done gilding," Pearce said.

Graduating at 16, he attended art school in Leek, then Central School of Art in London, where he sat at lunch with a group of musicians that included Mick Jagger, who came over from the London School of Economics. Pearce also attended Camberwell School of Arts. He studied "pretty much anything to do with lettering, he said, including letter-cutting in stone and wood. He went to work for Decca Records, where he started out doing record sleeves, including the first Rolling Stone album.

Pearce also ran folk music clubs in London pubs, and played guitar with Bob Foster. He and Foster were known as the loudest folk singers in London, he said, noting that they once played a folk festival at Albert Hall without amplification. Pearce was later in a bluegrass band called "Kitshickers and the Peasant Pluckers."

"I knew everybody in folk music -- Bert Jantz, John Renbourn, Wizz Jones, Malcolm Price," he said.

Marriage and raising three sons in Hertfordshire ended his folk music career, Pearce said. In 1980, he divorced and moved to New York, then in 1991, was head-hunted by American Greetings Corp. in Cleveland, where he worked for 10 years. During that time, he produced his first work of art: a triptych titled "The Lunatics are Running the Asylum."

"I basically mouthed off about business, politics and religion," Pearce said.

In 2000, he bought land south of Eureka Springs and built a three story house and studio. He is currently working on a piece incorporating the whole of Schiller's poem, "Ode to Joy," which Beethoven used for the final movement of his ninth symphony.

The Main Stage Creative Community Center is located at 67 N. Main, Eureka Springs.

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