Not Made in Heaven explores the myth of the artist through the cool, provocative, controlled, and quietly influential world of painter Philip Pearlstein. In the early 1960s, after serving in the U.S. army and returning to college to study art under the GI Bill, a young painter went against the grain, broke with Abstract Expressionism, and began a 40 year project-that continues to this day-examining the naked human figure in large scale paintings that "tell it like it is." Pearlstein's move, away from the pack was dryly announced with his 1962 article in ArtNews: "Figure Paintings Today are Not Made in Heaven."
The dominant myth of the artist involves larger-than-life characters that burn out in dramatic self-destruction. While these legendary figures have offered great fodder for cinema, the tales are overdetermined. In contrast to the conventional story, Pearlstein has led a stable, private life, inconspicuously eschewing the excess and machismo of the art scene. He has been married to his college art school peer for over 50 years, raised three children, and spent every day going to work in his studio, painting live models, or mentoring younger artists. Considered the "father of New Realism," through his prolific painting, writing, and teaching, Pearlstein has had a tremendous impact on what we know as modern and postmodern art.
A close college-friend of Andy Warhol, from when they attended Carnegie Mellon together, it was Pearlstein who was able to convince Warhol's mother that he would watch out for Andy, thus enabling them to move to New York in 1949, where they lived together.
Now 82 years old, Pearlstein has outlived his art world peers. As one of the last of a generation of artists-Pollock, DeKooning, Warhol-who forged new definitions of American art and shifted the center of the art world from Europe to America, Pearlstein continues to paint everyday while directly confronting his mortality and legacy.
The film explores this little-known, yet major figure of the international art world. An avid collector and documentarian of his own daily life, through the use of Pearlstein's personal collection of photographs, 8-mm and 16-mm films, videos, as well as other vérité footage, and interviews with Robert Storr (art historian), Sister Wendy (art commentator), Chuck Close (artist), among others, a compelling alternate history of artistic practice and commitment to one's aesthetic vision emerges.
A complicated, darkly funny character is revealed who does not want to be known as Andy Warhol's friend, but who obsessively invokes Warhol; who does not want to be known, "as a poor Jewish boy from Pittsburgh who made good," but is clearly conflicted about his impoverished laborer parents and their disconnect from the élite, cerebral milieu in which he succeeded; who is a simple family man who, seemingly without any tension, spends all his time sexlessly painting clinical representations of naked women and men whom he considers "his children"; a painter who seeks recognition and immortality, yet is suspicious of nearly every step that would secure such a fate.