Monday, February 02, 2009

Art Space Talk: Cleon Peterson

Cleon Peterson is an LA-based painter and graphic artist. Peterson’s paintings depict a world in chaos-- characters in the paintings are shown committing random acts of violence within environments where riots appear to be the rule of law. These clashing figures symbolize a struggle between power and submission and reflect aspects of social frustration that can be found just under the surface of contemporary society. In his paintings the brutality is raw-- no actions are concealed and there is no fine line between winners and losers. Cleon took some time from his schedule to answer a few questions for the Myartspace Blog.
The Occupation by Cleon Peterson

Brian Sherwin: Cleon, you are an LA based graphic artist and painter. In many ways Los Angeles informs you work, correct? Can you discuss the influence that living in LA-- being a part of the scene-- has had on you?

Cleon Peterson: I'd agree that LA informs my work, but more so its the city and the things that happen in dense environments where people are jammed together and having to deal with each other. Every city I've lived in has had these pockets of mayhem where people are acting out desperation in a primal ways.

I've actually never really thought of myself being involved in a scene. To me the word "scene" implies hanging out in a group that encourages assimilation. I'd say that the small group of friends, artists, and gallery owners I hang out with are really inclusive and open to difference but we all inspire and encourage each-other.
Cleon Peterson

BS: What about other influences? Are you influenced by any specific artists or events? If so, how are those influences reflected in your art?

CP: Right now my brother Leigh Ledare and I are doing a lot of talking. He's a constant source of inspiration to me. He's an artist as well and has been photographing my family for years. We talk about art, life, narrative, how things fall apart and come back together again and a lot of other things. Its really interesting to share the same history with another person and realize that you see the world and process the world in an entirely different light. So we are both making work about our experiences, but the work is very different.

BS: You are predominately self-taught, correct? I did read that you studied at the Art Center and Cranbrook after years of developing your style. How did your education impact your work? Did it?

CP: I don't think I’d claim that I was self-taught. My grandfather was a poet and my mother was a dancer. My mother exposed me to a lot of art and film when I was a kid and I painted and drew all the time. I dropped out of high school when I was 15 and went to a few art colleges early on, but never finished. When I decided to go back to school I went back to study Design.

My undergraduate experience at Art Center was very formal. My graduate schooling at Cranbrook was much more challenging and exciting. The program is run by Elliott Earls-- an excellent debater. Our job as students was to put all the work into critical crisis exposing all the aesthetic and conceptual holes. We'd go back and forth for hours dissecting the most minute details in our art and writing.

The schooling introduced me to a lot of new ideas and got me reading philosophy, sociology, and psychology. I think the education was just a continuation in gaining knowledge and exposure.

Cleon Peterson

BS: Can you go into further detail about the social implications of your art? When you create personal works what is the message that you strive to convey? Does a specific message dominate your visual language, so to speak?

CP: I feel that everyone views the world through the lens of there past experiences. That being said I've lived a life that has been full of exchanges like the ones you see in my work. I see today’s world as a place where everyone has reverted back to their state of nature doing whatever it takes to get theirs. I think that this perspective resonates with people today in our current economic and political times.

My paintings are a bit dystopian and I'm adamant about not pushing an agenda or trying to get people to read the work in any way. In a sense, the paintings function as a source of dialogue and have an open read. There is also a real comedy in the work. Everything is at the boiling point and absurd. I think there is a place for cynicism and a nihilism in today’s culture and I think that the idea of Hollywood happy endings and the social pressure to be blindly optimistic are a bit disingenuous and hard to stomach today.

BS: Tell us about some of your recent work…

CP: Lately I've been painting larger pieces and have been moving more towards the urban environment and interiors.

BS: You have been involved with several exhibitions, including exhibits at New Image Art in Los Angeles and Deitch Projects in New York. As an artist, what do you enjoy about exhibiting-- about putting your work before the public in a space such as a gallery?

CP: I suppose I enjoy getting peoples unbiased reactions to the work. When you put art out into the world you can’t hide. I enjoy exhibiting because the response from strangers is very informative.

Cleon Peterson

BS: In your opinion, how can art… be it on the street or in a gallery… make an impact? Why is it important to make statements visually for the public?

CP: I don't consider myself an instrumentalist or have any desire to work in that mode. I'm just interested in making my work and leave the response to the viewer.

BS: Do you have any other concerns about the art world at this time-- or specific challenges facing the art community as a whole?

CP: The art world is mature and can take care of itself. It definitely doesn't need my policing. All I can concentrate on is doing what's in front of me today.

BS: Do you have any advice for young artists who are just starting out?

CP: No, I try not to give advice. Let them figure it out and I’m sure they'll come up with something we couldn't have anticipated.
You can learn more about Cleon Peterson by visiting his You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
New York Art exchange
London Calling

1 comment:

Gringo said...

Fantastic interview! His art sure does leave something to think about.