The Times-Standard

POSTED: 04/04/15, 3:52 PM PDT 

Pierson does some ‘soul searching’

William Pierson's photographs at Piante Gallery


“Pool of Tranquility” is a photograph by William Pierson, featured artist through May 16 at Piante Gallery in Eureka. 


A number of years ago, local photographer William Pierson got a call from a stranger who had attended his exhibition. He had called to tell Pierson that he'd visited the beach after viewing the photographs and, under the sway of the pictures, saw the ocean in a way he never had before. He wanted to thank the artist for the newfound perspective. With his exhibition of new work at Eureka's Painte gallery, "Soul Searching for the Inner Eye," Pierson once again invites us to see as he sees.

Pierson travels extensively within Northern California and Hawaii, and a majority of his work uses imagery discovered in those natural environments. In his travels, he is hyper-aware of change—the way time and movement impact the natural world not just day by day, but second by second. By freezing some moments and, through time exposure, extending others, he adds a sense of wonder and mystery to images as archetypal as sun, moon, sky, and sea. "You stare at the sky as long as I do, eventually something cool happens," Pierson laughs. The trick, he explains, is knowing which moments have the most potential. After more than forty years of photographic experience, Pierson has honed the attentiveness and patience necessary to know when and what to click.

Pierson speaks of "a desire to journey beyond physical appearances" with his photographs, and looking at his work it is clear that his eye sees more than the external. The object's form may tell us it is a tree, but that simple shape is not necessarily what Pierson is responding to or trying to capture. As much as he is exploring the world around him, he is also searching for what it is inside himself that makes certain moments resonate. The goal is for the final image to reproduce the feeling he had in the moment the photograph was taken.

This movement away from a more common, object-centered way of seeing is part of what sets Pierson's photographs apart from traditional landscape or nature photography. It gives his work a certain otherness: a sense that we are glimpsing something beyond the world of the objects themselves. That otherness in Pierson's work often comes in the form of real and imagined elements discovered within the familiar: pathways, portals, voids, dividing lines, symmetry. They are aspects that our eyes, as we rush through our daily lives, would likely miss.

One of his new photographs, "Pool of Tranquility," depicts a multidimensional coastal scene incorporating intricate layers and textures: the shoreline's craggy igneous forms, the movement of the sea, the finality of the horizon's laser-line, and even the drama of the setting sun. All this movement and variation is balanced and ordered around the photograph's central image—the pool's bright, mysterious void. While contextually we know we are looking at a tidal pool, Pierson's treatment makes the pool feel otherworldly. The tonal and textural differences separate the pool from the movement of the ocean and even from the familiar stillness of smaller adjoining pools. In fact, the pool scarcely reads as water at all: It feels neither liquid nor solid. It feels simultaneously full and empty. A viewer may just as easily create a narrative in which the pool is a creative force out of which the rest of the scene has somehow emerged, or a destructive force in the process of erasing or consuming the landscape itself.

Images in the show range from the immediately identifiable to pure abstraction— patterns of light and dark. Pierson enjoys the possibilities that come with abstraction. "The best transition I ever had was when people went from saying where is this to what is this," he says. By moving the emphasis away from the object and toward quality of light and movement, the viewer is allowed to move beyond seeing what the artist sees to seeing what the artist feels.

“Soul Searching for the Inner Eye” will open at Piante, 620 Second St. in Eureka, on Saturday with an Arts Alive! reception from 6 to 9 p.m. and runs through May 16.