Whirl and Volume: The Artwork of C.J. Pyle

The Freshman_©_CJ_Pyle The Freshman | 12'' x 12'' square | pencil, ink and colored pencil on verso of LP jacket | © C.J. Pyle 2018 | Image courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery

C.J.Pyle is a self taught visual artist born nineteen fifty six in Richmond, Indiana

His work has been shown in galleries and institutions throughout the United States, Europe and Australia.

Pyle is represented by the Carl Hammer Gallery in Chicago. For more on C.J. Pyle check out his website.


I start an image by first choosing the surface.

West_Side_Six_©_CJ_Pyle
West Side Six | 22 1/2”w x 31”t | pencil, ink and gouache on found ledger paper | © C.J. Pyle 2018 | Image courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery

I have a stockpile of found paper, discarded LP covers etc in my studio.

Twinkle_©_CJ_Pyle
Twinkle | 12” t x 22” w | pencil, ink, colored pencil and gouache on verso of LP jacket | © C.J. Pyle 2015 | Image courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery

I choose this type of surface to work on because of both the patina and character of the paper and also because of the texture and surface quality.

Talk_of_the_Town_©_CJ_Pyle
Talk of the Town | 13” w x 12” t | pencil, ink and colored pencil on verso of LP jacket | © C.J. Pyle 2015 | Image courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery

I next start the automatic drawing process of drawing and erasing over and over until the desired image emerges.

Mother_may_I_©_CJ_Pyle
Mother May I? | 24 3/4” t x 18 1/2” w | pencil, ink and colored pencil on found paper | © C.J. Pyle 2014 | Image courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery

This process can take one drawing session or many, many sessions.

Madam_X_©_CJ_Pyle
Madame X | 13”w x 12” t | pencil, ink and colored pencil on verso of LP jacket | © C.J. Pyle 2015 | Image courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery

At this point I start the finishing process by working on the different sections until the desired results are achieved.

Ceora_©_CJ_Pyle
Ceora | 13” t x 12” w | pencil, ink and gouache on verso off LP jacket | © C.J. Pyle 2017 | Image courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery

Depending on each finished piece, I then determine if the image will stand alone or become a series or a diptych or triptych.

Lawrence_of_Newark_©_CJ_Pyle
Lawrence of Newark | 12” x 12” square | pencil, ink, colored pencil and gouache on verso of LP cover | © C.J. Pyle 2017 | Image courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery

Each single piece takes between two weeks and six weeks to complete.

Ginger_©_CJ_Pyle
Ginger | 13” w x 17” t | pencil, ink and colored pencil on inside cover of children’s book | © C.J. Pyle 2009 | Image courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery

My materials are fairly basic. I mostly use pencil, ink, ballpoint pens, colored pencils and gouache on found papers.

Edisons_Medicine_©_CJ_Pyle
Edison’s Medicine | 22 1/2” w x 10 3/8” t | pencil, ink and gouache on found ledger paper | © C.J. Pyle 2015 | Image courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery
Bijou_©_CJ_Pyle
Bijou | 15” w x 10 3/8” t | pencil, ink and gouache on found ledger paper | © C.J. Pyle 2015 | Image courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery

CJ Pyle: Another Slipping Glimpser
Carl Hammer Gallery
Exhibition text

Play with language seems to be at the heart of CJ Pyle’s exhibition, Another Slipping Glimpser. But as is certainly confirmed by the work on view, play is not the absence of serious-mindedness, but rather a more free-form mode of inquiry. Of course, with a certain enjoyment, dare I say, fun. This can be read in a number of different ways, from the decidedly “Pylian” visual language the artist has developed and which has become something of a signature style, to the titles he employs for his works, as well as the title of the exhibition itself. A reference to Willem de Kooning, who self-identified as a “slipping glimpser,” Pyle seems to suggest an affinity with the late artist and his inventive, if not also evasive, approach to articulating his role as an artist within society.

This wording has the feel of an onomatopoeia, though it’s hard to say which gave birth to which—the phrase or the artist. The linguistic turns of phrase employed by the artist speak to an enigmatic yet strangely identifiable vernacular language, which is equally supported by the style that characterizes the physical works. Certainly when you look at Pyle’s paintings, the images you may perceive only ever seem to be partial (glimpses) and the brush and line work move in distinct patterns (slipping) across the two-dimensional surface. In fact, Pyle’s work offers a unique perspective on the vernacular legacies of the Chicago Imagists, whose influence on the artist seep through in different works on display (for instance, finely articulated hair and clothing patterns evoke the work of Christina Ramberg, or the optically intricate line weavings of Ray Yoshida).

But there is also a more personal side to this exhibition as well, if one sifts through the different layers of meaning and signification. The different portraits are all quite distinct, and evince a private understanding or interpretation—a sense of intimacy. When asked about his interest in portraiture in general, Pyle recalled: “I have a distinct memory of myself drawing a picture at the kitchen table when I was about seven years old. I gridded the page into nine boxes and drew different characters in each box trying to make them all as different from each other as I could. I don’t know quite why, but I feel that that moment might have something to do with the work that I do today.” Memory too offers its own slippery glimpses. In this case, a child’s playful exploration sets the stage for a lifetime engagement with portraiture, and the refinement of a vernacular visual language. Another Slipping Glimpser is the next chapter in this story; a longer form narrative that is itself a work of art in the making.

Steven L. Bridges
Associate Curator
Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum
Michigan State University


Jawbreaker_©_CJ_Pyle
Jawbreaker | 13” w x 12” t | pencil, ink, colored pencil and gouache on verso of LP jacket | © C.J. Pyle 2014 | Image courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery