In confinement, people tend to count the moments. Prisoners mark tallies on the wall, hospitalized patients maintain running lists of daily medications, diarists scribble records in notebooks, penitents recite their morning and evening prayers. It’s a way of gaining some small bit of control over the ceaseless progression of the hours: logging as an assertive act, and a protest against the erosive power of isolation.
Visual artists log their lives, too. On Kawara, for instance, painted the date, every day, for years, in strokes of uniform white paint on small rectangular canvases. Plainfield artist P.E. Pinkman isn’t quite as monomaniacal as that. But the pandemic has provoked feelings of extreme destabilization and alienation in just about everybody, and Pinkman is no exception. “100 Days of a Pandemic,” a chronicle of loneliness and disintegration, peppered with occasional violent outbursts, is the centerpiece of “Seeing Someone Else Is Seeing Yourself,” his solo show at the Fine Arts Gallery at Saint Peter’s University (Mac Mahon Student Center, 47 Glenwood Ave.)
Curator Beatrice Mady has hung the series of images on the Gallery’s big wall: different versions of Pinkman’s face, one after another, scribbled with crayon, haloed with pencil, smeared with charcoal and pomegranate juice, tortured by too-happy Murakami flowers, divided, blown apart. Pinkman made one to represent each of his hundred days of isolation, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll identify with the obsessiveness, the blurriness, the desperate need to flee coupled with the sure knowledge that no matter how fast you run, you’ll never escape yourself.
Sometimes Pinkman takes refuge in sheer drawing pleasure, mimicking the styles of artists he admires; sometimes he tilts the face, like a listing balloon with a slow helium leak; and sometimes he lets it drop to the bottom of the frame like something thrown into a tank. He superimposes messages over his broad forehead and beneath his pointed chin, and these often speak to his anger and his immersion in inescapable popular culture and the endless news cycle. There’s little chance you won’t remember that 2020 feeling: an election bearing down, and viral particles afloat outside a sealed window, and indoors, everything coming unstitched.
Queerness is a major subtheme of “Seeing Someone Else Is Seeing Yourself,” and the show stands as a reminder that quarantine was particularly hard on those of us who rely on community support and identification in order to keep us whole. Yet in “100 Days of a Pandemic” sexual identity dissolves under the pressure of the ennui and constant, nebulous peril of the global health crisis. If Pinkman’s face looks drawn and rail-thin, constantly on the verge of evaporating, well, didn’t you feel like that, too? On the verge of a better spring (fingers crossed), it’s possible to view Pinkman’s pandemic drawings as a document of a terrible time in our lives that we might, very provisionally and very carefully, call history. The show, and the student center, will be open to the public during Jersey City Friday: March 4, from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.; masks are, naturally, required.