Cleon Peterson is an LA-based artist whose chaotic and violent paintings of clashing figures symbolize the struggle between power and submission in contemporary society. His imagery is both highly topical and ingrained in history – although all too easily associated with the barbaric sectarian violence in the Middle East and current geopolitical turmoil, it’s also deeply rooted in Western cultural history, from the classic Greco-Roman vases depicting warriors and battles, to the decapitation paintings of Caravaggio and violent masterpieces of Goya.
Cleon’s paintings are monochromatic while channelling at the same time the fashion sensibility of the early 80’s, complete with skinny ties and Day-Glo colors. In his anxiety-riddled world, violence is the status quo. His dystopian scenes evoke Thomas Hobbes’ description of life as a war between individuals: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Many of Peterson’s paintings feature images of hostility removed from any form of context of background.
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 uniform physical appearances, suggesting a classless, unsympathetic society. The message is clear: there are haves and have-nots, but amid the chaos it can be hard to decide who’s who.