Cleon Peterson’s Unflinching Paintings Act Out Our Culture’s “Poison”
The L.A.-based painter says the artist. This worldview, if not exactly rose colored, inspires close and critical readings of modern life.
Peterson’s work, 20 pieces of which will be on view at Detroit’s Library Street Collective beginning August 29th, is gritty in part because of the artist’s lived experience. A former drug addict, Peterson channeled the nervous energy of his eventual recovery into these stark, acrylic-on-canvas works. Surviving a self-destructive past, says Peterson, taught him “not to be stagnated by social fear. I got on this kick where I started approaching life like I’d approached getting drugs.”
The result: black-and-white figures acting out stabbings and frozen moments of police brutality, their bodies shaped in poses that recall classic Greco-Roman sculpture. They’re complemented by the occasional splash of bright accent colors, the tones of which have been compared to the palette of ’80s punk. The artist, who has close relationships to street artists, such as calls a “current poison running through our culture and other cultures around the world.”
Peterson complements the brute literal force of his paintings with sly titles. In Balance of Power (2015), two figures stab each other simultaneously—a scene often rendered in action movies, yet here shown as grave and mythic. One painting, titled The Guilty (2015), shows one of Peterson’s signature ogre-like men hanging the other. Here, as in his work at large, it remains unclear who the guiltiest party could be.
“Cleon Peterson: Poison” is on view at Library Street Collective, Detroit, Aug. 29–Oct. 15, 2015.
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