Robert Pruitt: Goodnight Prometheus | Esther Pearl Watson: A Luminous Vision

1700 S Santa Fe Ave #101, Los Angeles, CA 90021
Mar 11, 4 PM - 6 PM — ends Apr 22, 2023
Vielmetter Los Angeles is proud to introduce “Goodnight Prometheus,” our first solo exhibition with Robert Pruitt, comprising of fourteen new come and charcoal drawings. A recipient of the Studio Museum of Harlem’s 2022 Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize, the Houston-born, Harlem-based artist is known for life-sized portraits that weave past, present, and future into transcontinental, intergalactic, and intergenerational tapestries. The exhibition title is drawn from an act in the 1961 film adaption of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” which the artist watched repeatedly during the completion of this body of work. In the scene, a drunken, imbittered Walter Lee Younger chides George Murchison for his collegiate dress and his search for assimilation. George silently pays him no mind until it is time to leave. Exiting the scene, he snips, “Goodnight, Prometheus,” invoking the Titan who – in defiance of Zeus – provided fire to man, making civilization’s progress possible. Like Prometheus, Walter is punished for his desire to aid the meek. Impaled to the ground floor of society, and ignored as black in a white world, Walter macerates his liver daily with the devil’s brew.

In “Goodnight Prometheus,” Pruitt continues conversations from more recent bodies of work – “To Control the Universe” (2021) and “A Song for Travelers” (2022). As in previous installations, black women are central in this constellation of drawings. One may read the artist’s representation of women, as in “Dyson Sphere”, as the centrifugal might by which the unequal forces of this world are separated and reformed. What may seem less apparent is the role of the figural black man. In “Sagittarius A Star” and “We knew from the start that things fall apart,” black men appear to spawn into being, their bodies fully formed as their ori (i.e., head-consciousness) remains a nebulous compendium of gases yet to solidify. In “This my new dance move, I just don’t know what to call it,” the man’s head is draped in a blue dress as his corpus provides a scaffold for his partner’s militaristic arabesque. Rather than a matter of indecision, these figures may represent new masculinities in the making, on the page and in the life of the artist himself, as the black matrifocal becomes the way forward.

Filial themes are furthered in “Couple in a Vacant Lot,” a neighborhood garden of Eden, complete with a serpent drained of all ill repute. Depicted in a floral array are “all the bad parts”[1] of a community, each living together in an agreeable, though shaky, existence. At the rear of this natal scene lies a specter of racial banishment[2] represented as a “We Buy Houses” sign. Lives – not to mention lovers – lay in the balance. This piece is Prometheus’ prudence at work, illustrating the more-than-human worlds existent within a disinvested community.

Whereas in past installations Pruitt may have sought to control the universe, here he labors to create it anew. This series promises to captivate, provoke, and pencil-in possibilities for being together otherwise, not in some faraway galaxy but on the daily. Goodnight, Prometheus. Diligent work has earned you some rest. But, tarry not too long. For there are as many stories to be told as there are worlds to be built.

Text by Dr. Willie Jamaal Wright.


Vielmetter Los Angeles is excited to present our third solo exhibition with Los Angeles based artist Esther Pearl Watson, “A Luminous Vision” which will be on view in Gallery 3 from March 11 through April 22, 2023. Watson, known for her intimately detailed diaristic paintings, culls from her own memories and an archive of emails from family members transmuting her personal history of caregiving for her mentally ill loved ones into fantastical landscapes. Dappled with starry night skies, cascading comets, and sparkling UFOs, Watson’s memory paintings incorporate curious snippets of emails from her family members, contextualizing her compositions with an eccentric narrator. Of these works Watson describes her attempt to process the feeling of being grounded in reality whilst dealing with her family members’ mental states which can feel otherworldly. The exhibition shares a title with an immersive installation inspired by her father’s descriptions of his angelic companions’ tour through an interstellar landscape.

Beauty makes me hopeless. I don’t care why / anymore I just want to get away. -Anne Carson, “On Hedonism”

Watson’s penchant for narrative can be both devastating and tongue-in-cheek. She reminds me of the Pre-Raphaelites, who also wanted to hop on a spaceship destined for elsewhere (Heaven). The pathos of, say, John Everett Millais’s painting Ophelia (1851-1852) lies not in the power of the Shakespearean story it references, but in its cringey investment in allegory and its feminized seriousness. Ophelia floats away, perhaps about to be probed, and we weep self-consciously and bathetically. Indeed, we probe ourselves, swiping tears away, from side to side, like the lone, horizontal cyclist in Watson’s We need to Build underground shelters on the Moon [IL1] (2023).

Moreover, 19th century painting was often influenced by literature, and we could say that the Pre-Raphaelites, so invested in painterly retellings of poetry and myth, could be categorized as conceptual artists using art and text. The same could be said for Watson, whose interest in semiotics is frequently minimized as a mere reference to a folk vernacular. Writing what you mean without the opacity lent by criticality or the pretentiousness of memoir is difficult and necessary. It is a solitary venture. Painting and writing for God’s enjoyment, as the Pre-Raphaelites did, or for the enjoyment of little green men, is an act of faith that your shouts in the wilderness are received by somebody, somewhere, miraculously, like a letter to a lover whose only address you know is one you shared many, many years ago. You might only know the city and state, planet and galaxy, the antecedent but not the referent. There is so much space between images, words, and bodies, and they are crossed out from time to time, as with Watson’s earnest scrawls.

Text by William J. Simmons

Image: Robert Pruitt, "Couple in Vacant Lot"