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
Cleon’s paintings are monochromatic while channeling at the same time the fashion sensibility of the early 80’s, complete with skinny ties and day glow colors. 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.
His shadowy figures mete out violence in images that could just as well depict justice as they do barbarity. Peterson’s work can be viewed as both a continuation and a progression of past works, in which graphically rendered scenes of sadism portray chaos as the inevitable order of things. Many of those scenes have featured characters with physical appearances largely undifferentiated from one another, suggesting a classless unsympathetic society, yet in this new body of work Peterson incorporates “shadow” figures and a new dichotomous order. There are haves and have-nots, but amid the havoc it’s hard to decide who’s who.