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CLEON PETERSON

THE JUDGEMENT PLUS ONE 0 5/02 /1 6 -20/02 /1 6


THE JUDGE M Cleon Peterson is an LA based artist whose chaotic and violent paintings show clashing figures symbolizing a struggle between power and submission in the fluctuating architecture of contemporary society. The exhibition, co-curated in league with Case Studyo, will show his most recent paintings and —for the first time in Europe— a large life-sized sculpture. With The Judgement, Cleon Peterson presents a further propagation of his body of work referring to a world of brutal and violent chaos. Unlike his previous work in which the omnipresent aggressors all looked alike as if spawned from the same faceless mold, straight into a casteless and unstructured world, the artist has started to incorporate figures which clearly differentiate from each other: Representing a dual order, in black and white, of those who have, and those who have not. “THESE NEW PAINTINGS ARE ABOUT THE VIOLENCE WE’RE LIVING WITH TODAY, A VIOLENCE THAT’S BECOME THE NEW NORM. THE NEW ERA OF RELIGIOUS AND IDEOLOGICAL WARFARE BROUGHT ON BY OTHERNESS, POWERLESSNESS WITHIN THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE DESIRE TO HAVE MEANING IN LIFE. THIS IS A CONVERSATION ABOUT PEOPLE WITH A THIRST FOR REVENGE STRIVING FOR POWER. IN THE END WHOEVER HAS THE POWER WILL MAKE THE WORLD IN HIS OR HER OWN LIKENESS.”


E MENT The life-sized sculpture —quite literally the pièce de résistance of the exhibition— shows two of his most representative figures in this perpetual power struggle: Identical, and undistinguishable from one another but for their role of victor and victim in the depicted scene. It attracts and it disgusts; A gruesome tableau that instinctively repulses, presented in the guise of a powerful statue that demands worship. Not only because of its aesthetic qualities, but because it fuels our morbid fascination with the kind of cruelty that has become a mediatized spectacle. “I THINK THAT THE WORLD AND PEOPLE’S MOTIVES ARE EXCEEDINGLY COMPLEX AND WHAT SEEMS HEROIC AND JUST ON ONE SIDE IS OFTEN THE OPPOSITE ON THE OTHER.” The imagery of Cleon Peterson is not only strong because of its striking visual quality and its relevance to our world today. Although all too easily associated with the barbaric sectarian violence in the Middle East and escalating excrescence that is the current geopolitical turmoil, it’s also deeply rooted in Western cultural history, from the classic Greco-Roman vases depicting warriors and battles, to the marvelous decapitation paintings of Caravaggio and violent masterpieces of Goya.


WORKS


Flesh of the Wicked, 2015 91,4 x 91,4cm 36 x 36in Black and white acrylic on natural canvas


Hearts and Minds, 2015 91,4 x 91,4cm 36 x 36in Black and white acrylic on natural canvas


The Victors, 2015 55,9 x 76,2cm 22 x 30in Black and white acrylic on natural canvas


Bleed into the Night, 2015 55,9 x 76,2cm 22 x 30in Black and white acrylic on natural canvas


Dust, 2015 55,9 x 76,2cm 22 x 30in Black and white acrylic on natural canvas


Heathens, 2015 55,9 x 76,2cm 22 x 30in Black and white acrylic on natural canvas


The Judgement, 2015 Unique Courtesy of Case Studyo Sculpture in fibreglass, finished with automotive lacquer paint 240 x 174 x 206cm high 94 x 68 x 81in


Three Soldiers, 2016 45,7 x 61cm 18 x 24in Black and white acrylic on natural canvas


Freedom, 2016 45,7 x 61cm 18 x 24in Black and white acrylic on natural canvas


Kill for Peace, 2016 45,7 x 61cm 18 x 24in Black and white acrylic on natural canvas


The Forgotten One, 2016 45,7 x 61cm 18 x 24in Black and white acrylic on natural canvas


Destroying the Weak - White, 2015 Multiple White porcelain with glass glaze. Edition of 20 and 4 AP’s 23cm height Courtesy of Case Studyo


Destroying the Weak - Black, 2016 Multiple Black porcelain with glass glaze. Edition of 25 and 4 AP’s 23cm height Courtesy of Case Studyo


THE ART OF CLEON PETERSON:

PAINTING THINGS OF PAIN


Interview

As we speak, American artist Cleon Peterson is painting a mural in Hong Kong, while further developing his venture into sculpting propelled by Case Studyo (Ghent) and virtually mounting his solo exhibition The Judgement at Plus-One (Antwerp). A continental drifter, even more so in his visual language that transcends centuries and geography, going from tribal archetypes, over ancient Greek (anti)heroes, Bosch-like pictures of inferno, 80ies new wave to modern times SM-imagery. Like a clash between Achilles and Kraftwerk, Dante Alighieri and Pulp Fiction’s “bring out the gimp”. But before we ask him about this apparent timelessness of human cruelty, he takes us back to his childhood, starting with his first memory.

Was it audio and/or visual? ‘Wow, that’s a hard one. I honestly can’t pinpoint a first memory. If I were to try, I think it might be affected by this weird narrative I’ve created for my life today. A kind of reverse memory that is some sort of fiction. The things that stick out for me are vague memories of identifying feelings which I’d felt before usually triggered by smells or environments. Some kind of emotional memory that feels déjà vu like.’

When did your pictorial conscience awaken? Did you start drawing out of an internal urge? ‘I drew all the time. It was often an impulse and probably began as a way to stave off boredom. I remember getting in trouble for drawing on the desks in school. I was also sick all the time with asthma as a kid and drew on long stays in the hospital. I do remember identifying that it was what I did, or my calling, early. Because I had so many close to death experiences when I was young I feel


like I was looking for something to give my life meaning. So from very early I saw art as an extension of my self and as something that after I left this world, would continue to represent me, my thoughts and on a deeper level my spirit.’ ‘My mother saw my interest in art so we’d go to museums and book stores and check stuff out. She also set up a space for me in the house where I could paint. It was good. I was disinterested in school and missed a lot because of being sick. She recognized that art was what I liked and she did what she could to pursue my interest. I was a weird kid. I remember people telling me I worked too much and to take it easy when I was just 13.’

Was the encouragement from your mother at times suffocating? ‘Haha! I think if you don’t feel suffocated by your parents when you’re young, there is a problem. I think it’s a healthy impulse to want to leave your family and become independent. My mom, like my brother, my grandfather and myself, was very strong-willed and there was a lot of butting heads in that house. When she recognized that I had talent and had developed a body of work, she wanted to put it out in the world. She saw a way to team up and start a thing. She helped organize some shows and turned my stuff on to people early. But I didn’t function well as a teenager, having my mother as an advocate. This was a period where I didn’t know what subject I wanted to paint, so I was trying out different things, trying to find my voice.’ ‘Tina, my mom, set up some still lives to draw and was giving me money every time I finished a drawing. When I’d done like 15 of these things, she took them to a nice gallery in downtown Seattle and showed them to the owner. The gallery offered me a show, kind of billing me as child prodigy – blah, blah, blah. This moment was my fork in the road. I could either continue working with my mother as strange manager and advocate, lose my identity, become the child prodigy and paint horrible flowers for the rest


Interview

of my life, or dive into the abyss of self and really figure out my voice. So this is the exact point at which my mother and I split ways.’

How much of your ambition was her ambition? Your brother, photographer Leigh Ledare, called your early work “an extension of our mother”. ‘I think everyone who is healthy, goes through this process with their parents. Some just identify it and move on earlier than others. Ironic though that he calls my work an extension of my mother, right.’

Is the violence, including rape scenes, in your paintings an externalization of a sublimated matricide? A reverse oedipal complex? ‘Our family is extremely complex. I won’t deny that this is an impulse I have. There’s a struggle to break free from oppressive situations and to exact some kind of justice or revenge, even if its only in the space of art.’

You say you do not to want to shock with your work. But wouldn’t it be alarming if viewers stopped being shocked when looking at aggression, albeit fictive? Are we not going numb as it is, constantly exposed to images of cruelty – non-fictive. ‘My work shows the world as it is, but it is not intended as some cheap way to shock the viewer. We’re exposed to the violence in the world every day in media, but there is a distance between us and these events when seeing it in the newspaper and on TV. Art has a special quality. It creates an almost sacred moment and space where the individual can reflect the subject and emotion of the image onto there lives. There are few spaces that create a pause for people to feel their relationship to these subjects.’


There is an honesty, a pureness when one acts beyond law and order, beyond social restrictions, beyond political correctness. But is it viable? Even for an individual, alienated from society? Does a sense of humanity, compassion, only exist when in relation to others? ‘We are all born into a world full of social contracts. Obeying law is important if one is happy in his situation, but if one is born into a world where he feels disenfranchised, lesser, and other, this creates problems. I think compassion is breaking down today because people feel like outsiders, so apart from society. Today it feels like people are willing to go to extremes just to prove that they exist.’

You got inspired by the streets of Brooklyn in the early nineties. You had your share of experiences with heroin and cocaine addiction and the underground where much of it was set. You were part of the skate movement. Do you consider yourself, partly, a street artist? ‘I don’t consider myself a street artist. I paint on the streets because I like painting in large scale and confronting the public with my ideas. Street art is a cheap way for developers to put mundane art on a building with the purpose of gentrifying neighborhoods and raising real estate prices.’

Isn’t your beautiful piece in Palais de Tokyo more linked with Mexican muralists than with graffiti? ‘Exactly, I always liked the intent behind Diego Rivera’s work. For me the artist has an obligation to create something that is meaningful and reflective of the times.’


Interview

Hardship makes you a better artist – your mother disagrees. What do you think? ‘Well, I think it was hard on her when I was addicted, in and out of hospital, jail. I’ve had real crises and low points in my life, but this is the stuff that created empathy in me. If you’ve suffered and had such insecurity at that deep level, you can understand what other people are going through.’

A famous Belgian writer once said: “Inspiration is for amateurs.” He meant that art is – also and maybe largely – about working hard, with focus and discipline. Agreed? ‘Absolutely. If I were to wait around for inspiration, nothing would ever get done. All this work comes with a regimented investment of time. When you’re done with a show and it’s hanging you can look at it and feel: wow, I can’t believe I made all of this. This day or two of complete exhaustion at the end is where you feel the inspiration. Then you’re confronted with the next void.’

“The creative process is an existential crisis – if you’re too comfortable, you’re not doing anything good.” What do you do when it gets too comfortable? To me comfort is not challenging oneself. It’s repetition, boredom and lack of ambition. Having ambition is a good thing, but it’s also a curse. It guarantees that you’ll never be happy where you are. For me anger is also an important tool, it’s passion and volatility. I always feel better if I care about something enough to feel these things.’


Looking at the state of the world, you said: “We can only do so much – throwing rocks at a giant skyscraper.” Does that frustrate you? Or is one rock still better than not throwing anything at all? ‘I think everyone should throw their rocks. I’m not a huge optimist or idealist when it comes to seeing positive change. I’m also not overtly trying to lead an ideological crusade. I’m just painting the world as I see it.’

Is your crossover use of imagery, defying time and space, a way to say that cruelty is timeless and spaceless? Thereby putting the current wave of terrorism into historic perspective? Maybe saying that it isn’t that bad after all, nowadays. ‘Right. These aren’t new themes. The world has always been in one kind of crisis or another. People have been talking about the end of times for as long as we’ve been here. I guess when you add it all up, it seems relatively pointless. Maybe I’m just providing fodder for this generation.’ ‘I like the work to be living in today while at the same time referencing the past. These are universal reoccurring themes and the referenced histories possess sub narratives. There’s a dark political history in the resurgence of classicism and the ideal in art. I like to play with history and recontextualize it.’

Does it keep you sane, depicting other’s debauchery? ‘I think it does. It’s important to understand that all of us have the potential to act these things out. It’s important to know the darkness that we’re all capable of. These things that we see on the news are all being done by people like us with mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. All of us want better lives, better futures for our loved ones. I believe that deep down the people killing other people, think there doing right. This is what makes this such a complex, unending situation.’


Interview

Bosch, Bruegel: is there an affinity with the Northern Renaissance? ‘I like Bruegel. Our paintings are very similar. Everyday people and culture but with all its strangeness and darkness. Bosh moves into the symbolic and imaginative. I try to stay away from that space. I like to deal with the real world out here and now.’

To end: is sculpture a new exciting direction, possibly even an exiting of sorts, away from painting? ‘I’m always impressed by sculpture and the way it functions in public space. It documents our cultural history’s triumphs and losses. This is my way of entering into this cultural space. My hope is to one day display it in a large scale city center, a monument to the times we’re living in today.’

19/01/2016 Antwerp - Hong Kong


BIOGRAPHY


Born 1973 in Seattle, WA Currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA EDUCATION 2006 MFA The Cranbrook Academy of Art, Detroit, MI 2004 BFA Graphic Design, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA

SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS 2016 The Judgement at Plus One, Antwerp Purity at Over the Influence Gallery, Hong Kong 2015 Poison at Library Street Collective, Detroit 2014 End of Days at New Image Art Gallery, Santa Monica, CA 2013 There is a War at The Outsiders, London, UK 2012 The Brinksman at Guerrero Gallery, San Francisco, CA 2011 White Flag at Joshua Liner Gallery, New York, NY 2010 Daybreak at New Image Art, Los Angeles, CA 2009 New Image Art Los Angeles, CA The Unconsoled at A.L.I.C.E. Gallery, Brussels, Belgium The Mirror Stage at Monster Children Gallery, Sydney, Australia The Occupation at New Image Art, Los Angeles, CA 2008 Kill Pixie and Cleon Peterson at White Walls Gallery, San Francisco, CA


SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS 2014 Lasco Project at Palais de Tokyo, Paris 2013 Direct Address: An Inaugural Group Exhibition at Joshua Liner Gallery, New York, NY 2012 These Friends Three THIS Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Summer Group Exhibition at Joshua Liner Gallery, New York, NY 2011 Postermat The Hole, New York, NY New Image Art Miami, Scope, Miami, FL Pure Logo at New Image Art, Los Angeles, CA This Place in Time at Show & Tell, Toronto, Canada Public Domaine at La Gaîté Lyrique, Paris, France 2010 Summer Group Exhibition at Joshua Liner Gallery, New York, NY Come As You Are at Prism Gallery, Los Angeles, CA New Image Art at Miami, Art Basel, Miami, FL The Power of Selection at Part 3, Western Exhibitions, Chicago, IL Moniker Art Fair at New Image Art, London, England Inaugural Group Show at Guerrero Gallery, San Francisco, CA 2009 August Group Exhibition at Joshua Liner Gallery, New York, NY Beach Blanket Bingo – A Summer Mixer Group Exhibition at Jonathan Levine Gallery, New York, NY 14 Artists at New Image Art, Los Angeles, CA Octo Pusses at New Image Art, Los Angeles, CA 2008 Trailblazers at Boutwell Draper Gallery, Sydney, Australia Park Life at Subliminal Projects, Los Angeles, CA


Poster Renaissance 2 at New Image Art, Los Angeles, CA Locals Only at VASF Gallery San Francisco, CA Scope New York New Image Art, New York, NY Ginger at New Image Art, Los Angeles, CA 2007 Art Basel at Deitch Projects, Miami Beach, FL Aqua Art Miami at New Image Art, Miami Beach, FL Those Damn Yanks at Leonard Street Gallery, London, UK Mail Order Monsters at Deitch Projects, New York, NY Brodeo at New Image Art, Los Angeles, CA


Colophon Artworks

Cleon Peterson

Text

Jason Poirier dit Caulier Johan Faes

Photography

Mirror Mirror

Graphic Design

Mirror Mirror

Cover image

Heathers, 2015


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Cleon Peterson  

The Judgement. Catalog of the solo exhibition at PLUS ONE gallery

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