C.J. Pyle’s exhibition, “Saints and Sinners” is a meditation on detail and texture. To create these complex portraits, he needs only a few simple materials: ballpoint pens, Paper Mate pencils, and LP or book covers. He says no paper compares to that of 1970s and 1980s LP covers and the uniqueness of each pencil in a pack giving him a breadth of possibilities with line.
He honed his “weave technique” while on the road as a musician. Between sets and soundchecks, he would perfect the patterns that make up his surreal portraits with the ballpoint pens that were always lying around for set lists. This “weave” came from Pyle’s childhood fascination with rope knots and the cartoons of Basil Wolverton, and he went on to tell me at the May 30th opening that the process is very meditative. One of these works typically takes a month to complete when he works on them for at least five hours a day.
Most of Pyle’s works have a simple palette with a couple of colors, but the drawings are incredibly complex. In each work the process is palpable, leaving the viewer with velveteen patterns and faces of braided rope. In “I Want to Talk About You,” he layered gouache, light over dark, allowed it to dry and pulled off some of the color by applying and removing tape, revealing a spongy motif contrasting with the overall geometry.
In “Tete a Tete,” there is more of a felted quality than his signature weave. This is accomplished with Pyle drawing tiny, repetitive circles with pencil. The result makes this piece softer and even more abstract. Pyle’s techniques are very much in tandem with the delightfully compulsive Chicago Imagist style. I think particularly of Jim Nutt’s fanciful forms of the Hairy Who. And like Nutt, Pyle tells a fanciful story in his surreal portraits. In this show, he ponders the saintly and the sinful, the beautiful and the ugly, and it all comes together as a tremendously successful exhibition not to be missed. (Carrie McGath)
Through July 2 at Carl Hammer Gallery, 740 North Wells.