OCT. 13, 2006 | Many of Charles Pearce’s calligraphy-style paintings carry a political or social message. But the message conveyed by the three-foot-by-four-foot piece of artwork that hangs in the outpatient chemotherapy area at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) is one of gratefulness and hope.
Pearce was brought to UAMS after suffering a heart attack as he left a Little Rock restaurant May 22. Before then, he knew UAMS only as the workplace of his friend and jewelry designer Michele Fox, M.D., a professor of pathology in the UAMS College of Medicine and the head of cell therapy and transfusion medicine.
Now he knows UAMS as a place of healing.
“I’m exceedingly grateful to UAMS and feel a bond from being treated there. It’s a bond I’d like to maintain,” the 63-year-old Eureka Springs artist said recently about why he donated the painting.
Pearce was walking out of a restaurant in west Little Rock when he felt a “fierce ache” in his chest. He had felt a couple of twinges shortly before that at his home in Eureka Springs, but dismissed it as an upper respiratory infection.
But both he and his girlfriend, Kerry Kemp, knew this ache was serious. Kemp rushed Pearce to UAMS, where he was diagnosed as having a heart attack. Ibrahim Fahdi, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine and director of UAMS’ cardiac telemedicine program, put in a couple of stents and a balloon.
Now, four months later, “I’m doing very well,” Pearce said.
Before that incident, Pearce had no heart problems, though he has diabetes and suffered a mini stroke two years ago.
But those health issues have not stopped him from pursuing his passion as an artist. Born in Birmingham, England, Pearce moved to the United States 26 years ago, living first in New York, then in Cleveland, Ohio.
He taught an art workshop in Eureka Springs 17 years ago. Though he really liked Arkansas, “I never, ever thought I could make a living here as an artist,” he said.
Then five years ago, he was visiting a friend in Eureka Springs. “I was sitting in my friend’s house and looking out over the valley, and I thought, ‘I really could live here.’” So he found 12 acres for sale in Hillspeak, a community five miles outside Eureka Springs, and set up Whiskey Spring Studio.
He visits Little Rock two to three weeks a month, where he paints at Art Outfitters, owned by Kemp. He is primarily trained as a calligrapher and his abstract paintings reflect that style. In 1970, he was made a Fellow of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators in London, the most prestigious award available to calligraphers. He is the only calligrapher ever granted artist-in-residence status by the city of New York. He still teaches and lectures widely in North America, Europe and Australia.
“I want people to look at my painting and feel a sense of calm,” Pearce said, noting that’s why he took it from the biblical 23rd Psalm.
“I use letters and words in the same way as a composer uses notes and chords, in an attempt to create visual symphonies of color and texture,” he said. “If the occasional word gets lost behind another image it is the same as not hearing a specific note in a concerto; it would be noticeable if it wasn’t there. While it is possible to read my paintings, I hope that the viewer will see them more as an abstract painting than a piece of calligraphy, rather than the other way round.”