I want to share with you the recent work of Josh Peters, whom I first met in 2010, when he was living and working in Northampton, Massachusetts, taking a break from his workaday life to devote himself to his painting. His studio was housed in the same building where I had organized a group exhibition at a printmaking studio. A mutual friend had recommended him to me. Never one to pass up a possibly interesting encounter, I agreed and dropped by the next day when I had some time to spend. I was not disappointed.
In recent years Peters has moved from New York to Los Angeles, where he has seen some definite career high points: a solo exhibition at ACME Gallery in 2013, having his work added to the Artist's Pension Trust, and a forthcoming inclusion in the Pacific Coast Edition of New American Paintings, selected by Apsara DiQuinzio, the Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Berkeley Art Museum. His work has changed considerably from then to now, but a certain tenor remains constant. His work then was figurative, and borrowed its narrative from Pop Art sources such as comic books, pulp fiction paperbacks, TV nature specials, etc. Figures were spectral and otherwise ephemeral. Peters's work from that period always seemed to be qualitatively addressing a narrative, even if the individual paintings resulted non-sequentially and seemed more spectrally iconic, like portraits of mythic figures with the tapestry of meaning mixed in. Peters is still very much enamored of process, but rather than from one work to the next, he now engages more immediately with agendas of meaning that are more basely material. Projection of some interior justification upon the images and marks in Peters' paintings remains constant over time. There is always a muted quality to his images, which mine a shared culture of introspection while remaining topically opaque.
Looking at one of the earliest of Peters' new paintings BLUEBIRD (2012, Acrylic on linen, 62 x 64 inches), I am reminded that a degree of the Real always inhabits and animates what we so easily call the Abstract. The suggestive quality of paint when coupled with a specific motif such as a bird places the action of the painter, primal but suspect, in league with the instinctual impulses of nature. Peters places our sympathetic attention within the charismatic territory of what he calls 'painted space,' a liminal area that is simultaneously filled and qualified by his orchestrated works, which he describes as attempting "to harness the tension between opposites; the conscious and the unconscious, the accidental and the very deliberate."
By comparison, Peters most recent displayed image on his website, CRAB (2014, Acrylic on canvas, 54 x 64 inches), operates by staining the back of the canvas and then drawing positive if ephemerally constructed geometric forms on the face of it, setting up a dynamic that seems to put opposites on the same surface. The manifestation of an unspecified natural environment suggests everything from the darkness of outer space to the depth of the ocean, while the suggestion of a specific life form, structural and pragmatic though descriptive of the sluggish, non-surface life of a crustacean, is reduced, sleek, sharp edged, and striking. It also resembles little and exists merely by the suggestion of a presence. Literature is usually the biggest influence on Peters' work. CRAB was inspired by the famous line from T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Edgar Prufrock: "I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas." Currently he is working on a series of paintings inspired by Homer's cryptic line from the Odyssey about the 'wine-dark sea'.
Likewise, two other works, FLASH (2012, Acrylic on Linen, 64 x 62 inches) and WOOLY M (2012, Acrylic on Unprimed Canvas, 84 x 81 inches) combine a filling of the forward visual depth of the canvas, staining and painting, leaving negative space in one and filling it up voluminously in the other, create aesthetic statements that are complementary through accrual of complexity rather than by sequence or similarity.
As Peters states: The paintings are started either by wetting and painting the back of the canvas (thus seeping through to what will become the front) or by quickly and loosely covering the front of the canvas with a viscous mix of acrylic paint and liquid medium. Based on this haphazard beginning, additional elements and textures are added to the painting - a delicate balancing act, as much of the initial layer is left exposed to interact with the carefully placed forms which make up the second layer.
The seeping paint gives a feeling of hazy recollection.. incomplete objects (a half-moon, the fragment of a shape created by enhancing areas of this random beginning ) add to this feeling of the half-remembered and ambiguous-but-allusion-laden. I am aiming for a poetic amalgamation of naked process and careful planning.
Peters' esthetic is ambivalent and counter-intuitive. No sooner does he make one sort of painting than he switches gears to move in another direction, to constantly observe the act of painting from a moving perspective. He speaks of 'painting space' and I am immediately reminded of the procedures outlined by Black Mountain poet Charels Olson about Projective Verse, about the use of space and form following the energy required to create a progressive form of poetic utterance that is not merely oral, or literary, but physical, like the elements. I can certainly understand how, given his previous proclivity towards opaquely narrated scenarios with some emotional resonance; that he more recently found himself depicting reductively yet expressively defined paintings that were completely abstract. I spoke before of the movement not only through styles but through a self-recognized identity which only new forms can speak to. We do not necessarily see a person when looking at a work of art, but if we are vigilant we can see the gears moving. As Peters says of his work, “I want to freeze a painting while it is still in the state of 'becoming'.. to capture that wild energy... yet achieve a sense of balance that is pleasing to the eye and rewards sustained looking.”