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Interview Highlights: Cleon Peterson

  • Interview Highlights: Cleon Petereson
August 4, 2014
Sanja Lazic was born in 1990 in Belgrade, Serbia. Her interest in art comes from a very early age and although she didn’t have the talent to pursue it professionally, she enjoys every day working and writing about it. Her favorite urban artists are Interesni Kazki, Saner and Phlegm.

They say that the simplest things always provoke and strike the most. In the case of Cleon Peterson, it proved to be undoubtedly true. Using only black, white and the occasional fluorescent red or yellow color, he creates works of art that sometimes shock, other times emotionally disturb, but always question the reality. Since this week begins the long-expected Lollapalooza festival in Chicago, during which ‘The Provocateurs’ exhibition curated by Shepard Fairey will be held, Peterson in an interview for Complex Magazine talked about the philosophy behind his work, friendship with Fairey, as well as the upcoming projects.

Interview Highlights: Cleon Petereson
Cleon Peterson – Vicious

The Simplicity of Chaos

Petereson in his works manages to make an amazing combination of minimalism and chaos – minimalism thanks to the simplicity and style of the work, and chaos with the topics he deals with. This kind of decision was intentional: “I try to use colors that hit you in the gut emotionally—kind of dissonant colors, colors that almost personify aggression and violence. For some reason, to me, those colors do that on a gut level. It’s not like you have to look at the piece and read it; it’s very succinct. Just using three colors: black, florescent red, and white, is the quickest way to communicate that. People always talk about getting angry and seeing red.”

Interview Highlights: Cleon Petereson
Cleon Peterson – The Brinksman

Art Has To Critique

Peterson doesn’t believe in the ‘positivity’ of art, but that its main purpose is to be critical and send a wider message: “There’s something about the artiness of art, where people think you have an obligation, as an artist, to project positivism and not be critical. But in my world, all the art I’ve always responded to works against that, is critical, and is a commentary on the status quo.” Yet, insurgency has to come from inside: “I don’t have an agenda to start dissidence or get people to follow me. The images that I make are the same as images that are around us everyday, in film and in books.”

Cleon Petereson
Cleon Peterson

‘Street Art Is Challenging’

He is inspired by his own turbulent life, the life of others, but also by the media. However, being a kid growing up in the streets, he embraced a lot of the skate culture. This is one of the reasons he also expanded his work onto the streets, like the murals he did for the Katowice Street Art Festival in Poland and for BRUTAL at Lazarides – “It’s interesting to be able to paint what I think in a public space, because it’s challenging stuff. My goal in making art isn’t to make everyone like what I make. A lot of the time, when people put things up on the street, there’s this political correctness. It goes through a group of people who are then going to squash your ideas and make them likable by everybody. So anytime I can put something on the street, it’s really interesting for me, because it’s not easy.”

Cleon Peterson
Cleon Peterson

‘The Provocateurs’

In 1997, after going out of jail and trying to get a job, he went to Fairey’s studio, who gave him a space to work in. This is how the two became friends and eventually started working together. ‘The Provocateurs’ exhibition was a logical step: “I’m going to be painting a mural down there [in Chicago], too. That’s going to be really exciting. I have a few more paintings that I’m going to be showing in the space. I don’t know what to expect, you know? Sometimes I just make the stuff and see what happens. Afterwards, I’ll be in a summer group show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery. And I have the cover of JuxtapozMagazine’s October issue. I’m pretty excited about that.”

Cleon Peterson
Cleon Peterson