Imperfect geometry — Gary Petersen’s zip line tow rope

[Noreen gets sucked into an energetic but unsettling work that speaks to color’s undeniable links with emotion; she places it in context with other artists and movements. — the Artblog editors]

Western painting in the past two centuries exhibits an on-and-off relationship with color; from the wild oranges and yellows of the Fauvists to the abandonment of color in World War-era Expressionism. However, the love of color returned with mid-20th-century painters–pioneers of movements such as Post-Painterly Abstraction, Hard-Edge, and Color Field Painting. zip line tow rope, a new exhibition by Gary Petersen at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, reveres and redefines this formative era of imagery and ideals.

Leading lines

Zip Line Tow Rope (detail)
Gary Petersen, “zip line tow rope” (detail).

The wall painting that gives the show its title, “zip line tow rope,” absorbs two of the gallery’s adjacent walls. Forsaking the clean white wall paint for a creamy yellow, Petersen created a floor-to-ceiling backdrop, upon which plays a multitude of flashing, dancing color. The painted forms crisscross the walls in hard-edge, horizontal strips, ranging from candied pinks, purples, and oranges to powder blues and dusty grays.

At moments, they interlock and weave together, harmonizing, but never at right angles, creating a dialogue of imperfect geometry. All edges in the painting are crisp, neatly composed, but the artist did not preconceive the composition. This element of chance and spontaneity lends a sense of humanity and uncertainty to seemingly perfect hard edges and artificial colors.

This large-scale work marks the third of its kind in Petersen’s career, beginning with the 2011 group exhibition Wallworks at the Painting Center in New York City. His previous works contain themselves in organic, bursting forms and employ a similar palette, but on a much smaller scale. Yet Petersen works with the gargantuan format of wall painting confidently and mindfully, exploring the conversation between two intersecting walls with a dynamic juxtaposition.

The sweeping horizontals of Zip Line Tow Rope
The sweeping horizontals of Gary Petersen’s “Zip Line Tow Rope”

My eye was immediately drawn to the meeting of the these two planes–a convergence of the rushing rays of color on the left with the loop-like, wonky forms on the right, calling to mind the psychedelia of painters like Karl Benjamin and Gene Davis. The forms of the left-hand wall begin, or maybe end, with two tapered lines extending to the bottom corner of the gallery. The pair of stripes–acting as a leg, crutch, or tail–rises, turns sharply, and diverges.

The maroon stripe, not quite level, divides what appears to be two nesting windows, or maybe boxes, and imperfectly imitates a horizon. This weighted line, anchoring the composition, extends just past the corner and rises slightly, met by the acute angle of another box-like form–an uneasy, unbalanced conversation from one wall to another.

Here, I saw a play between heaviness and weightlessness, much like the title of the show. The small, narrow, fleeting lines dart about the composition, as if imitating the motion of a zipline; they are answered by the heavy pull of the respective “tow ropes,” which show in the thick, triangular forms running vertically in the composition.

Recalling and reimagining the ’60s

The view from the corner
The view from the corner.

The color choices are bright and artificial–reminiscent, Petersen says, of the consumer culture of his childhood in the ‘60s. Baby pink, sage green, and Creamsicle orange call to mind the color choices of mid-1960s Deco, while the steely grays and blues recall the imaginative visions of the future from that era–pop-culture milestones such as The Jetsons and Star Trek. The work of abstract painters of this time, such as Frederick Hammersley and Lorser Feitelson, embraces similar color choices.

With these connotations in mind, Petersen references a dynamic period in the 20th century. zip line tow rope seems to stem not only from this artistic heritage of the past, but also addresses its conception of the future–a utopian domain of perfection and order that Petersen clearly forsakes. Instead, he uses its aesthetics in the mode of misalignment, insecurity, and tremulousness. His work, unsettled, imbalanced, yet painted in sugar-coated colors, calls to mind the visual consciousness of the 1960s, but redefines and questions its conceptions of the future.

zip line tow rope is on view at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, now until August 31, 2014. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday from 2 pm until 6 pm, and by appointment.