In Naudline Pierre’s painting, Lest You Fall, falling is a moment of transformation and care. The otherworldly work is one of the Dallas Museum of Art’s recent acquisitions by the rising star and is at the center of Pierre’s first solo museum exhibition, Naudline Pierre: What Could Be Has Not Yet Appeared, now on view through May 15 at the museum in the Dallas Arts District.
The exhibition features pieces dating from 2017-2021 and showcases the fantastical parallel universe Pierre creates with vibrantly hued protagonists and supernatural beings. “It’s easy to lose yourself in the worlds she creates,” Agustin Arteaga, the Dallas Museum of Art’s Eugene McDermott Director, said.
Pierre considers herself a world-builder, creating narratives around a central protagonist with intricate scenes of strife and tenderness. “Each of these paintings, to me, are like stills from a film that maybe I don’t know the beginning of it or the end, but it’s an image that’s been given to me,” Pierre said.
Through this evolving storyline, Pierre explores compassion and identity. “In her works, fantasy offers escape with care, protection and love to be found in another world that is at once in the midst and beyond us,” Hilde Nelson, the museum’s Curatorial Assistant for Contemporary Art, said. “Naudline’s protagonists and supernatural subjects transform and are transformed in ways beyond our imagining and understanding with possibility of renewal and expansion in every encounter.”
Lest You Fall exemplifies Pierre’s depiction of a gentle touch as angelic characters surround and cradle the falling protagonist. “The fact that these winged figures are swirling around the protagonist and catching her so lightly and gently, to me, is a beautiful expression of love and care,” Nelson said. “It’s less a scenario of danger and more of transformation and power.”
In this world of gentleness, the protagonist’s tumble does not represent a fall from grace. “I wanted to explore feelings of care and maybe it’s a precarious situation, but she’s held and someone’s going to catch her,” Pierre said. “There are symbols of characters that come together to allow this protagonist to grow and to make mistakes and reimagine how she takes up space and how she interacts with the environment she’s in.”
On either side of the exhibition’s entry, Guardian (Somewhere) and Guardian (Elsewhere) represent a shift in Pierre’s color palette. “I wanted to reduce the chroma a little bit and then add in color in the end to bring it back to a place where you have this nice relationship between darker colors and some of these brighter colors that are my go-to,” Pierre said.
The Guardian paintings features starbursts, a common symbol in Pierre’s work. “Throughout all the works, you’ll see different ways of rendering stars and that’s just a nod to a sense of divinity, a sense of playfulness within the work, a moment of mystery. A burst of light, to me, is like a sparkle at the end of a composition of a painting,” Pierre said.
Pierre creates a personal mythology by drawing on the conventions of Renaissance art and religious painting. The religious references challenge the art world’s historical tradition of encounters between the earthly and spiritual. “While her works are in conversation with iconography and technical approaches of European religious painting, it depicts a visual vocabulary that is entirely her own,” Nelson said.
In Closer Still, two figures embrace in a fiery landscape. A serpent is coiled around their waists. In a traditional religious context, the serpent might be considered a wicked character. Pierre considers the serpent a unifying element. “This scene is a scene of closeness and tenderness,” Pierre said. “The serpent isn’t, to me, a malicious being in this situation. It is a connective thread tying these two beings together.”
The museum chose to hang one of Pierre’s works, Too Much, Not Enough, in its European gallery, continuing the dialogue about the traditions of religious art. “This particular work is suffused with those ideas of other beings and of something else surrounding us, changing us and protecting us and that’s a conversation that echoes across time,” Nelson said.
The work is a pandemic-era creation. “This painting is the first one that I made coming out of six months of not painting last year and dealing with isolation and everything that was happening in that time,” Pierre said.
The painting’s texture communicates the physicality of the relationship between the mortal and the ethereal. “You can sense longing in the composition,” Pierre said. “This scene is a scene of connection. It’s like a hug, really.”
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