Warmly: Hilary Pecis at Rachel Uffner

Hilary Pecis, Angel Trumpets, 2021, acrylic on linen, 42 x 32 in (106.7 x 81.3 cm)

If I were to buy just one painting from the Hilary Pecis show at Rachel Uffner, it would be Angel Trumpets. It reminds me just enough of “home”–if by “home,” I mean “warmer places where I have lived,” or, interchangeably, Taiwan or California–but not so much that gazing at it threatens to destabilize me with longing or nostalgia.

Reading the gallery’s press materials for Pecis, I am pleased to discover that she is a Californian. A graduate of Oakland’s California College of the Arts, Pecis was born in Fullerton, Ca., and after spending some time in the Bay, she now lives in Southern California, again. We share the same set of cultural touchstones and aesthetic inclinations. Among them: a fondness for California’s clear, searing light, an appreciation for the way that light flattens texture and intensifies color, a romantic (and perhaps retardaire) regard for the state’s legacy of modernism, and a love for those edge places that lap up against the state’s deserts and mountains, where artifice meets nature in ways that are both beautiful and sad.

Hilary Pecis, Mt. Whitney on the 395, 2022, acrylic on linen, 74 x 100 in (188 x 254 cm)

I gasped when I saw Pecis’s painting of Mt. Whitney. I thought, I know exactly where that photograph was taken. I’ve been up and down 395 so many times. That’s the cut-off for Lone Pine.

Which is not to say that you need to share the same references to enjoy these paintings. Just that they might not hit you quite the same way as they hit me.

Part of the pleasure of looking at these paintings lies in the way they play with the tension between the photographic and the painterly. Pecis begins with snapshots, and the paintings retain the peculiarity of photographic “vision,” which is so different from human vision, but they are also unabashedly painterly. Get close to these paintings, and you can see the way Pecis plays with chromatic and material possibilities of paint. Her paintings sometimes remind me of Wayne Thiebaud, another California painter, both in the handling of paint and in the way that the edges of her objects often shimmer and dissolve into borders of color.

detail from Hilary Pecis, Pasadena Patio, 2021, acrylic on linen, 74 x 64 in (188 x 162.6 cm)
installation view of “Warmly” at Rachel Uffner

These paintings are large, and they are fun.

They are also very popular with collectors. Helen Molesworth likened Pecis to “our David Hockney.” Pecis also reminds me of a painterly Imogen Cunningham.

It will be interesting to see where she goes from here. What will she choose as her next move? Will she continue to work within the parameters of her current style, or depart for points unknown?

“Warmly” is on view through May 7 at Rachel Uffner Gallery.

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