Crawling From The Wreckage

New Drawings, 2020

Essay | CJ Pyle
“Crawling From The Wreckage,” like most of CJ Pyle’s exhibitions, is like a snapshot of the current state of his making process. Pyle’s solo exhibitions don’t necessarily contain a certain body of work or act as bookends to a particular set of ideas or conceptual stimuli. The artist explains that his intuition guides the progression from piece to piece, as it does his compositions, his mark-making, his choice of colors. In a way, his entire oeuvre is a career-long continuation of a single practice: his laborious style of “knotted” mark-making with ballpoint penupon found paper material.
Pyle’s adoption of ballpoint pen in his drawing began decades ago when he was a touring musician and free pens were the medium readily at hand. Over the years, Pyle has studied, researched and mastered the practice of drawing with a ballpoint pen, the intricacies of which are made so compelling throughout the works in “Crawling From The Wreckage.” In a single work like Goldie #6, Pyle uses a pen to render vastly differing textures, from smooth “ropes” to soft “wool” to the simple lines of the subject’s stubbly collarbone. Wah-Wah too features this array of mark-making; and, with the addition of a field of matte India ink in the background, the viewer can suddenly decipher a range of purpley-blue hues within the sheen of the “black” ballpoint ink.
The LP sleeves, the backs of which are so often the surface Pyle draws upon, are another holdover from his music career. Compared to the glossy print of the album covers, the versos are a kind of blank canvas, though, in Pyle’s hands, even this plain paper board incites his aesthetic decisions. For the artist, the matte, lightly sealed surface is ideal for retaining the strokes of the pen; the square format and the head and shoulders of his subjects are in perfect harmony. In The Nice, Pyle makes use of an album cover entirely unfolded, its center crease a crucial component of the picture --a formal hinge separating the figure’s head from her body like
an exquisite corpse. So too do the creases, tears and stains lend a patina that evidences the LP cover’s former life --a detail that conceptually parallels Pyle’s use of autobiographical titles that hint at his personal history.
Though his own life makes it into the drawings in subtle ways, Pyle’s work is resolutely imaginative. For artists who work so intuitively, putting into words one’s decision-making process is something next to impossible. Pyle borrows Picasso’s adage regarding the kind of “shock” or “jolt” an artist experiences with a certain combination of aesthetic elements, though, with Pyle’s labor-intensive, tremendously precise drawings, it’s hard to imagine any decisions taking place within a mere moment. Indeed, the nature of the artist’s craft is such that each of these impulses arrives in the midst of slow, tedious handiwork. He has so much time to contemplate such intuitions, to distill the impulses of his imagination and formal expertise, as his hands continue with their motions, rote and tremendously proficient.

-Robin Dluzen, 2020
Artist & Critic


Another Slipping Glimpser

New Drawings, 2017

Play with language seems to be at the heart of CJ Pyle’s exhibition, Another Slipping Glimpser.  But as is certainly confirmed by the work on view, play is not the absence of serious-mindedness, but rather a more free-form mode of inquiry.  Of course, with a certain enjoyment, dare I say, fun.  This can be read in a number of different ways, from the decidedly “Pylian” visual language the artist has developed and which has become something of a signature style, to the titles he employs for his works, as well as the title of the exhibition itself.  A reference to Willem de Kooning, who self-identified as a “slipping glimpser,” Pyle seems to suggest an affinity with the late artist and his inventive, if not also evasive, approach to articulating his role as an artist within society.


This wording has the feel of an onomatopoeia, though it’s hard to say which gave birth to which—the phrase or the artist.  The linguistic turns of phrase employed by the artist speak to an enigmatic yet strangely identifiable vernacular language, which is equally supported by the style that characterizes the physical works.  Certainly, when you look at Pyle’s paintings, the images you may perceive only ever seem to be partial (glimpses) and the brush and line work move in distinct patterns (slipping) across the two-dimensional surface.  In fact, Pyle’s work offers a unique perspective on the vernacular legacies of the Chicago Imagists, whose influence on the artist seep through in different works on display (for instance, finely articulated hair and clothing patterns evoke the work of Christina Ramberg, or the optically intricate line weavings of Ray Yoshida).


But there is also a more personal side to this exhibition as well, if one sifts through the different layers of meaning and signification.  The different portraits are all quite distinct and evince a private understanding or interpretation—a sense of intimacy.  When asked about his interest in portraiture in general, Pyle recalled: “I have a distinct memory of myself drawing a picture at the kitchen table when I was about seven years old. I gridded the page into nine boxes and drew different characters in each box trying to make them all as different from each other as I could. I don't know quite why, but I feel that that moment might have something to do with the work that I do today.”  Memory too offers its own slippery glimpses.  In this case, a child’s playful exploration sets the stage for a lifetime engagement with portraiture, and the refinement of a vernacular visual language.  Another Slipping Glimpser is the next chapter in this story; a longer form narrative that is itself a work of art in the making.


Steven L. Bridges

Assistant Curator

Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum

Michigan State University




C J. Pyle (Christopher John Pyle) was born July 5th, 1956 in Richmond Indiana. 

I had never seen anything like my woven-knot technique before I developed it, so there was no inspiration for it, really. I just loved the act of drawing and had been drawing consistently since about age 12. I guess if you do something that much over the years you might discover something, and I think that I did. 

As to how the weave technique with a ball point pen developed? It came out of 
the rock clubs, where I played from the mid-seventies into the early nineties. As a traveling musician, there'd be down time because of sound checks, breaks, traveling, etc. and I would while away the time perfecting the weave. 

As a child, I loved the detailed ink work of Basil Wolverton and also loved making rope knots--I tied hundreds of them -- and became fi x ated on the weave of the rope. So those two inspirations somehow found its way into my personal artwork many years later; they're the foundation for my work. 

I like making two-color portraits; I don't really know why I just do. As a kid, drawing faces is what I fi x ated on. I also find creating an image with limited color much more challenging than one created with many colors.


Raw Vision/25 years of Art Brut, 25th anniversary exhibition. Halle St Pierre Museum, Paris France. Sept 18, 2013 - Aug 22, 2014

C.J.Pyle - D.J. Ojekere, The Hughes Gallery. Sydney, Australia. Aug 10 - Sept 4, 2013

Outside - In, University of North Carolina Pembroke. July 24 - Sept 6, 2013

Forever Young, Good News Only, Chicago IL. March 3 - May 25, 2012.

C.J.Pyle - Scott Ogden, Twisted, Ricco Maresca Gallery. New York, New York. June 23 - Aug 19, 2011

C.J.Pyle - Skin Deep, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago IL. Oct 28 - Dec 30, 2011

Forget me NOT: Self Taught Portraits, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago IL. Sept 10 - Dec 31, 2010

C.J.Pyle - Kilroy's Delight, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago IL. Oct 2009

Midwestern Blab!, A+D Gallery, Chicago IL. June 2009

Primal, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago IL. June 2009

Blab! Show, Copro Nason Gallery. Los Angeles CA. Sept 2008

Blab! Museum Retrospective, Mirianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Manhattan KS. Aug 2008

Blab! Show, Philip Slein Gallery, St. Louis MO. Oct 2007

Blab! Shoe, Copro Nason Gallery, Los Angeles CA. 2007