Gary Petersen is first and foremost a painter, but it seems that he's got a knack for installation too, as evidenced by his solo show, “zip line tow rope,” at Tiger Strikes Asteroid. The New York-based artist has wound up in Philly for the exhibit curated by Alexis Granwell, which includes his largest site-specific mural work to date – one that emerges from geometry and pop art and lands squarely in a spatial world of incandescent lighting and voracious art observers.
The artist seems ever conscious of the viewing space, facing off his three small paintings against their much larger cousin applied directly to the surface of the opposite wall. He creates an immediate dichotomy between the object and the experience, despite the tinier works' uncanny likeness to the lines bending along the room's corner and its adjoining planes. This division ultimately results in what could be considered two shows, together reinforcing contemporary art's tendency to reside in very contrary arenas.
At first, it appears as if the faded yellow hue of the installation that shares the show's name is more likely due to the throw of the lights and not the color of the paint chosen by Petersen... but that analysis would be incorrect. It almost comes as a shock to discover that the artist would select such a muted and somewhat sickly color to dominate his largest piece, but the neutral color at least provides an apt, non-white foundation on which to build up the shapes that truly constitute his artwork. What the maize wash also provides is a faint yellowish glow that pervades the entire show, making it practically impossible to avoid. This byproduct of the pigment distinctly separates the entire experience from the realm of smaller works available for purchase.
Of all the boxes and hard edges in “zip line tow rope,” one would be very hard pressed to find many actual right angles. Even when the lines appear to reach ninety degrees, either the inner or outer part of the connection widens or shrinks so as to avoid any perfect rectangles. That, paired with the rotating cast of colors, makes an exhibit so dependent on rigidity and straight lines actually quite warped and full of movement.
In Petersen's smaller paintings, he explores a bit further in the direction of rounded parts and finer detail, probably in part because of their scale and permanence, but also because he is relatively new to the mural and installation game (this is one of only a few such pieces he has ever constructed). There are slight gradients behind some of the overlapping parts, and a great deal of depth too. For such a simple vocabulary of shapes, Petersen manages to piece together some fairly complex compositions that are sharp, exact and even obsessive.
Through these filaments, Gary Petersen weaves webs, tightens cords and builds structures in 2D with the eye of a designer, but still manages to bubble over into concepts steeped in the event of entering a space made for art. While much of what Petersen provides is a pretty image, he also makes us extremely self-conscious with that subtle burst of yellow enlightenment. Tiger Strikes Asteroid will be showing “zip line tow rope” through August 31.