Interview with Immortality & Vulnerability artist Denis Peterson
Why did you choose realism as your style?
I started out in art school heavily influenced by art professors who were known minimalist and abstract expressionist painters.
Their inspiring art and provocative intellects were a strong platform for self discovery as to powerful expression, competent brush handling and effective execution of abstract ideas. I produced a full body of abstract work until they generously taught me how to fully integrate all I had learned into photorealist art, which eventually emerged as my style.
My initial attraction to it was twofold. As a contemporary art form, it provided a full array of evocative social and cultural motifs; and aside from content, it was a demanding genre through which I could effectively challenge flawed camera simulations while essentially capturing the verisimilitude of observational human experience.
What year was that? You were one of the first to really bring this medium into the New York art scene. With so many others working in this style, how do you plan to stay ahead?
That was back in 1966 .. it was called New Realism then, followed by Sharp Focus Realism and by 1970 it was going full speed as Photorealism. There were many really fine and innovative painters in the movement. I regarded my own work, albeit original, lost in that mix and somewhere towards the bottom of the pile, despite a brief showing at the Brooklyn Museum. However, few others were airbrushing, particularly with acrylics, which in those days were nothing more than grossly overpriced latex house paints.
Actually, I am quite pleased to see so much fine new work out there these days. I just let my work speak for itself, and never make comparisons. Frankly, I only compete with myself, finding that content and composition are the driving forces behind my direction. As I don't anticipate public reaction, I see this stylistic continuum as somewhat of an artistic journey to break creative boundaries, rather than as a competition.
So, in the interest of staying ahead of myself, I am constantly inventing new painting techniques and art material applications headed for new discoveries. I have always averted heavy narratives as well as technical marvels, while rarely knowing where my work is taking me. This past year, I had been working on model centered monochromatic paintings, which will now be introduced in the Immortality and Vulnerability group show. As a developing series, it is an unusual departure for me, so the future of my work should prove to be interesting.
What was the inspiration behind this new series? It is so different from your previous work. Would you consider this to be your vulnerability or your immortality?
Last year I started a test series of preparatory studies based upon the immortality of the soul; a distillation of the predominant theme in my former painting series, The Wall and Don't Shed No Tears.
Simplicity of form is a radical departure from previous works based on extemporaneous shots routinely taken on the streets of New York.
In stark contrast, this new painting series requires posed models and studio lighting setups. All physical surroundings and color references were subsequently stripped out to isolate the figure in an undefined space. Compositionally, it was a virtual balancing act: evocative content vs a minimal narrative. As monochromatic work, considerably more attention was paid to creating the illusion of a black and white photograph.
My paintings are quite literal - what you see is what you get. In stark contrast, this new work is semiotic imagery that somehow transmutes into a higher consciousness, that of the ethereal.
I don't typically show works until a full series has been completed. This gives me the opportunity to see how the paintings work together in the same room and to plan out or alter the series. However, this new motif is still under development and without question, there is no end in sight.
Publicly exhibiting a disparate approach while uncertain where it is headed can be tenuous territory at best. Vulnerability? An understatement.