Artist of the Week - Cleon Peterson

Artist(s) in Focus

October 8, 2015

Disturbing, violent, aggressive, but beautiful in many ways the art of Cleon Peterson continues to surprise us with its ultimate simplicity of expression and powerful critique of our world. He is often called the “shock artist” but the only thing shocking about his art is the way that Cleon Peterson manages to engage in a dialogue with some of the most problematic issues of our age and the truths about the humankind that have shaped the path of humanity, using only simple, shadowy figures and monochromatic painting style. Perhaps he is not the most optimistic artist in today’s contemporary art world, but he surely is one of the most intriguing ones. Currently based in LA, Peterson is one of the most prolific artists on the Los Angeles art scene, painting outdoors and in his studio and exhibiting his works regularly. As we speak, the latest creations of the Cleon Peterson are on view in Detroit at Library Street Collective Gallery.

Chaos, Violence and Destruction of the Ideal

The striking thing about Cleon Peterson work is how distressing and emotionally challenging it can be, given the fact that his paintings are done only in black and white colors with the occasional use of fluorescent red or yellow, colors traditionally associated with the feelings of aggression, violence and jealousy. The clever use of monochromatic background with simple characters, unified and almost indistinguishable from one another, and the disquieting and vexing topics he encapsulates made the art of Peterson a strange but truly powerful combination of simplicity, minimalism and chaos. In an interview that we recently shared with the artist, he explained that his inspiration mostly comes from those things that make him angry and that he doesn’t choose to repress this darker side of his personality. This is probably one of the reasons why his artworks appear to the viewers as uninhibited and unrestrained expressions of those darker parts of the human nature, part rooted in violence, brutality and cruelty. Reminiscent of the heroic scenes depicted in ancient Greek clay vases, the characters painted by Peterson are not heroic at all but rather the cruel shadows of humans, representable for a society that has lost the heroic ideals.

Cleon Peterson - Poison in Detroit

For few more days, the latest works of our Artist of the Week are on view at Library Street Collective Gallery in Detroit. The current exhibition is entitled Poison and it visualizes the theme of vengeance as one of the greatest poisons of our time. But it isn’t our time only. For millennia, since the first human tribes, blood feud with a cycle of retaliatory violence has been an inseparable part of the human cultures. And it is ever-present in today’s world, except the nature of those violent acts and blood retaliations has changed from its initial motivation rooted in rituals and religion to the more complex mechanisms of power and political and economic domination. All of these questions about the violent and destructive impulses of the human psyche are addressed in the latest series of Cleon Peterson’s porcelain sculptures and works on canvas on display at Library Street Collective Gallery through October 15th. The Poison exhibition is a great continuation of his past works still representable for the artist’s style, but it possibly brings a more pessimistic vision due to the clearer distinction between oppressors and their victims. In the end, the aim of this artist is not to indulge or entertain the viewers but to comment and reflect on the society and if his art is getting darker than perhaps to rethink the ways of or society.

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Library Street Collective, Detroit
Left : Cleon Peterson - Marcher White / Right : Cleon Peterson - Marcher Gold

Library Street Collective, Detroit
Left : Artwork by Cleon Peterson / Right : Cleon Peterson - Vengeance

All images courtesy of the artist

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