Mallory Pearson: Painter, Poet, Jeweller, Photographer

claire na

Mallory Pearson is an artist based in New York City, New York and Manassas, Virginia. She is studies fine arts at the Pratt Institute, with a major in painting. Much of her creative practice revolves around the South and the ideas encompassed by the region’s long and troubled history. Pearson has exhibited her visual work in several shows, including the BASH exhibition in Brooklyn. Her poetry can be found in her chapbook, Two Beings of a Single Body, which she published in 2017, and most recently she has been featured in the anthology Dawn with Arms of Roses. Mallory and I have been friends for something approaching a decade now. We speak almost daily about our lives and our respective creative practices, though many of our mutual understandings of each other have come about without words or arisen through the bouncing of thoughts and half-formed ideas off each other. This discussion is an opening up of her inner practice, her technical approaches, and an analytical conversation about her core ideas. 

A brass and polymer clay oval ring in a decorative setting with gouache and gold leaf detailing.

A brass and polymer clay oval ring in a decorative setting with gouache and gold leaf detailing.

How long have you been painting for?

About ten years. I started doing it a lot in middle school just for fun.

How long have you been writing poetry?

Always! Since elementary school I’ve loved reading and writing poetry. I thought I would be a writer before I’d be an artist.

Same! And now you’re both.

And I love it!! Isn’t that fun how words almost lead you to art. I think they allow you to articulate how the images you want to make are important.

Oh for sure! So, thematically, how do you think your poetry and visual work intersect? And could you speak about your major poetic and painting themes individually?

When I write I always have images of landscapes and the South in my head because it’s so alive to me. My painting really revolves around the South and the energy that remains when something is gone. Many times I write a poem to sort out the images in my head and it gives me the language I need to create the painting.

Given the complex and violent history of the South, how do you balance a great love for the natural environment with the potentially problematic romanticisation of a fraught region, particularly given modern circumstances?

My ties to the South are very much with its energies and while I love it and its natural beauty these energies can be overwhelmingly negative and that’s a big part of how I make my paintings. I think of it often as a residual haunting of that negative energy returning in a cyclical pattern.

Do you think you could elucidate on what these “energies” are to you?

For me, the energies exist in images and structures; the South is filled with decaying houses and farms and each building I see holds an energy of the people who used to exist there and their lives whether they be positive/negative. And on a personal level that energy of a person is my grandmother’s positive/negative energy in her house, possessions, and photos that I’ve seen after her death.

Can you tell me about this dichotomised energy you relate specifically with your grandmother and her house?

The house represents a much more negative energy to me. It’s the only space that I knew her in but it’s also where she was sick. I write about it a lot but I don’t really paint it. 

I’m interested in the things you write about but don’t translate to a visual practice. Is it a level of intimacy that you’re avoiding or is there something else going on that limits the interchangeability of ideas between the different mediums?

I think it definitely deals with intimacy. Often writing feels like a way for me to express my emotions without necessarily telling someone else. I find my writing to be a much more private experience than my painting, particularly when exploring personal pain. I’m much more apprehensive about the writing I put out into the world.

Femininity also seems to be something you spend a lot of time on. Can you speak on the driving forces behind that?

Oh definitely! In large part it’s because of my own love for women as well as the enormous feminine presences of my grandmother and her sisters who were all huge personalities from the South.

Sexuality hasn’t always played a big role in your work, though, has it? How is that growing and changing for you? 

It’s definitely been a journey over the past few years. It’s always been something that I’ve wanted to incorporate into my work but it was only after coming out to my family last year as a woman primarily interested in other women that I felt free to work on how it might play a part in my paintings. It’s always been a part of my writing, however; it helped to work it out through words.

I know your favourite medium is acrylic, but you’ve been working a lot in oil recently. Can you tell me about how different materials may shape the expression of the visual product? 

My favourites are acrylic, oil, gouache, and coloured pencil, so my pieces tend to circulate between those four. I work best in acrylic because it allows me to build layer quickly with bold colours but I prefer oil when I want a painting to have a hazier atmosphere and feel more dreamlike. Gouache is great for graphic pieces and helps me sketch or paint on my jewellery and coloured pencil is my favourite for small detailed pieces with vibrant colour.

Some of your latest work has incorporated textiles with paint. Can you speak on the development of multimedia in your practice and what that represents for you?

Lately I’ve been exploring the idea of the feminine handmade in my art. In large part this focuses on embroidering and the importance of quilts between women and the idea of the mythology of the family, i.e. how something is passed down and developed through the passing down of stories as well. I think of my paintings as quilts that I hold and care fo as I’m sewing them in my lap.

You’ve also been incorporating paint and textiles into your jewellery-making practice. I’m loving the canvas earrings by the way! What does your jewellery-making signify for you at the moment, and where would you like to see it progress?

Thank you so much! Right now jewellery has been a slightly more abstract outlet for my love of colour and shape. It’s a fun change from my usual subjects and a great opportunity to build a brand. I’d like to be able to grow it along with my painting because it’s a huge part of who I am as an artist.

So how do you feel that your jewellery-making (which began as somewhat of a secondary project) may have wider distribution than your painting and how does its translatability to digital sales speak to that?

I think my jewellery work is consumable by a wider market than my painting because it’s simpler and more easily accessible price/size wise so I think the availability of smaller, cheaper handmade items online appeals to more people. I feel fine about it because the people who do appreciate my painting are the people who I would want to understand it and it feels validating to have people appreciate my jewellery work because it’s still a part of my work. 

You have a very soft range of jewellery, both texturally and in your palette. This might be reaching a little bit but does your jewellery practice in any way relate to ideas of femininity that you explore in your poetry and painting?

My main focus with my jewellery is the idea of adornment. I love making pieces that I think can be considered art for the body. I make all of my jewellery with my own feminine touch but I also love the idea that anyone of any gender identity could wear it and feel my artistic intent. 

Thank you so much for your time!

Sure thing!


Mallory Pearson sells her work here and here. You can find her on Instagram and on her website.


Claire has too many plants in her bedroom. She keeps buying more. It's becoming a problem.