Strong, violent and deep
With an aesthetic rooted in graphic design and a style reminiscent of Greco-Roman vases, Cleon Peterson’s art depicts a world in which deviance is the norm and violence, sex, and drugs bring a hollow pleasure. A former drug addict who initially struggled to recover, Peterson does not rely on symbolism or allusion, as many other artists do; instead he depicts a chaotic and chilling reality—police brutality, stabbings, and strangulation.
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 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.
In Cleon Peterson’s anxiety-riddled world, violence is the status quo. His dystopian scenes evoke Thomas Hobbes’ description of life as war between individuals: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Many of Peterson’s paintings feature images of hostility removed from any scenery that might bring reason to bear a sense of justness to the brutality; the only context given is the mélange of evisceration coating the floor. In other works, the setting is a cityscape where storefronts only serve to indulge the base narcissism and vice taking place on the streets.
Where one might sense that Peterson’s characters occupy a lawless world, there is rather a significant presence of authorities, albeit wantonly corrupt and perhaps more savage than the civilian population.
And while the official’s uniform connotes his mandate for dominance, the real power is vested in an erratic sea of like-minded miscreants that forces outsiders to bend to its will. Deviance is simply the norm, and the displaced individual is forced to navigate this wicked world alone, finding hollow bits of pleasure and meaning in violence, sex, religion and drugs.
Peterson describes his bedlam as “a gray world where law breakers and law enforcers are one in the same; a world where ethics have been abandoned in favor of personal entitlement.”