Jay Peterzell’s latest exhibit New Paintings on view at Foundry Gallery through November 26th shows recent work from 2016 and 2017. The collection consists of abstract paintings and figure drawings with two prominent mixed media works. Despite the differences between the two groupings of work, the show aims to elicit strong responses from the viewer whether the subject matter is political, related to the artist’s personal experiences dealing with death or his interpretation of religious or mythical stories. This emotional resonance across the paintings creates reactions that range from distress to excitement. However, it is Peterzell’s politically themed canvases that stand out as a progression from his abstracts and figurative work to an expression of ideological beliefs using the American flag as the backdrop.
Two mixed media works in the collection are noticeably different from the figurative ones. One could interpret them as companion pieces using the underlying theme of the US government and the flag’s representation of American freedoms. Untitled No 1 has a foreboding quality with a large percentage of the canvas covered in layers of graphite and iron oxide. This burnt effect represents how the flag has been used to protest and challenge questionable government decisions. The prominent red stripe and a few exposed stars appear to indicate an underlying meaning; even though this is unintentional on the part of the artist, the removal of stars from the flag seem to indicate that little is left of our freedoms, especially threatened in today’s political climate. In comparison, Untitled No 2 also uses a flag on canvas, but hangs vertically and the artist has painted a red lead giving it an orange hue. There are rough surfaces of layered paint with underlying stripes of black with the original flag appearing beneath. An interpretation of this “red flag” could be a metaphor or a sign of some problem requiring attention. Peterzell made his own paint for these works and the bright hues have Fauvist qualities coupled with irregular tones and layers. According to the artist, he believes he has no other choice but to desecrate the flag as a patriot because of our current political climate.
In addition to the flags, Peterzell created works using themes inspired by other artists which he incorporates into his figurative style. The catalyst for his two depictions of Saint Anthony derives from the James Ensor painting Tribulations of Saint Anthony (1887). Peterzell uses a softer palette for his reinterpreted Temptation of St. A. and Tribulation of St. A. Even though they are abstract, Hell’s creatures are represented by the combination of distinctive, sometimes concentrated splotches of colors chaotically joined together with surface textures and embedded charcoal. These paint monsters have no discernible ending or beginning. Other works in the exhibit combine abstracts and figures, using oil, acrylic and charcoal as the medium. The artist has a keen eye for composition and rich use of color which he uses to transmit his emotional state. By experimenting with these different surfaces, colors and textures, he communicates concepts and stories based on his experiences.
The variation in styles almost feels like two different series on view; however, this exhibition represents a transition in Peterzell’s work. Throughout his art career he has progressed from figurative to abstract subjects, sometimes incorporating both elements. He has reinterpreted stories, depicted events, people and places, often times using personal experiences as a catalyst. The two flags are a welcome shift into a more relief format exploring the themes of freedom and social change. This is new territory for Peterzell who has taken the emotion from his abstracts while using his abilities to create images for social engagement and, in the process, he has opened a path to empathy.