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Cleon Peterson's Perpetual War

Words:

Edd Norval
May 11, 2018

You don't have to look far to see the constant power struggles that occur in every part of life - on the news we see leaders joking about nuclear arms, at work we see bosses bully their underlings. If the world can be boiled down to one thing, then it might just be that - the struggle for power.

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Creating work that is meditative yet explorative of a certain theme takes times - that's what meditation is. Time spent sitting and thinking about something, studying certain words, prayers or feelings, learning the subject matter intimately. It's a long-game of dedication and perseverance.


Cleon Peterson's work could definitely be considered meditative - his greco-roman style figures have been apparent in his work for some time, but somehow they still feel fresh - such is the universal nature of power struggles - they never end. His figures are at perpetual war.


The duality between good and evil, delivered in an almost entirely monochromatic oeuvre is clear-cut. There's the black side and the white side. One is 'good' and one is 'evil'.

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Using historical style figures, similar to classical Greco-Roman pottery designs, Peterson's drawings are instantly contemporary. We don't feel like we're looking at a replica of those ancient works, but a remix of them - like using ancient words in a Kendrick Lamar track.


Frequently wielding weapons, the depicted figures look like ferocious warriors, bulky and muscular - with bad intentions. They come from a long line of Western art that depicts this sort of thing, sprouting from the seminal influence of his works from ancient Greek and Roman art, by way of Carvaggio and Goya.


Peterson uses his artwork as a means of "investigating the dark, shadow or evil side within humanity", a side that is necessary and one that he thinks we should be willing to embrace as a roadmap to future cohesion. After all, isn't this darkness just part of human nature?

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His work is often set in a circular frame, with an offset symmetry. The shapes that the figures form, like a gory mosaic of bodies, often appear cyclical, like the violent power struggles depicted within them - violence breeds violence. An overwhelming message, especially when considering the large scale of his pieces.


Maybe because the figures are so simple, lacking in too much details, that they become a timeless blank canvas, bringing them into our contemporary lives. Slavery and sexual violence are ever-present features, again, both feature a dichotomy - evil and good, the oppressor and the oppressed. Both are violent forms of physical interaction.


That we haven't liberated ourselves from our lust for blood and power means that Peterson's work remains requisite, as both artistic representation and a reminder that we are no different to these more primitive figures and that nothing has ever changed - we're not moving forward, but round and round in a circle. Until the cycle is broken, it seems that there'll always be a place for his artwork. He'll never run our of things to say.

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