CLEON PETERSON, LIGHTS AND SHADOWS

Cleon Peterson has become one of the artists with the most recognisable work of the moment. His ability to represent violent scenes with fascinating and disturbing scenes of aggression and submission has taken him to the highest of the contemporary art panorama… And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

There are times in which a new artist manages to shine with a unique, original and non-transferrable style. Something that you’ve never seen before and that in the future you’re going to immediately recognise as his. Even when people copy him. Because they’re bound to. Because this is how things work and nobody can change that. Because it’s inevitable that, for a Cleon Peterson to enter the limelight, there are going to be thousands of more or less elaborated imitations. It is the rule of life. It is the rule of art. It is the rule of copying.

And the graphic style of Peterson’s large-format paintings couldn’t be more recognisable. The theme is always the same: the violence that is generated between figures that establish an aggressive power and submission dynamic. The bodies of the artist, always half-naked, reveal the muscular roundness of the aggressors and the suffering of the assaulted. That suffering is sometimes bloodier than visceral, sometimes almost psychological, with that implicit violence in immortalising a posture in which somebody accepts in a submissive way an act of aggression against their physique and their freedom.

It is very clear that this violence is totally rooted in the Western, capitalist psyche and that, precisely because of this, we find it fascinating. It’s impossible not to feel an immediate attraction towards Cleon Peterson’s work… At the same time that it’s highly unlikely that you won’t feel some type of rejection that makes you want to look away. But you won’t.

Just as all those who won’t look away and will try to find a subtext in this artist’s work that talks about terrorist violence coming from the Middle East towards the West. It doesn’t help either that, in many of Peterson’s paintings, the figures that exercise that violence are always black whilst those who receive it are white (something that the Angelino has shown in some of his series with militarised aggressors that even waves an American flag). But everyone should understand whatever they want to understand: if you want to read it as terrorism, do so; if you want to see the eternal fight between yin and yang, you’ll see it; if you’re trying to apply the classic dichotomy between light and darkness, you’ll also be able to do it.

You should add, though, a whole ensemble of references that remove him from that forced reality about terrorism and that approach his paintings to sculptural Greco-Roman friezes representing war scenes or Goya’s disturbing dark era. It’s clear that Cleon Peterson doesn’t only talk about the present: he also talks about the past and, more than likely, the future. And that was has made his work become such a strange yet eloquent voice of contemporary art.