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Cleon Peterson> Artist

Purchase Artist Cleon Peterson's Street Art Graffiti Modern Art, Prints, Originals, Sculpture, and Paintings.

Cleon Peterson’s world is full of merciless cruelty, chaotic debauchery, and a never-ending struggle to subvert power and oppression. This LA-based artist is the mastermind behind a series of dystopic artworks paintings, prints, sculptures and murals, exhibited in the US, Europe, and Asia. The great majority of his work is monochromatic and minimalistic, under the influence of Leon Golub, Philip Guston Shephard Fairey, and others.   In many cases, the starting point of the creative process for Peterson is anger, as a forceful reaction to today's socio-economic status quo. “One of the main inspirations that I have is anger. If I can be angry about something, it means I feel passionate about it. It makes me want to make art about it”, he says. Nonetheless, his art is not dealing with violence on a superficial level and it is not used as a tool of provocation per se. His simple compositions entail complex connotations and an unsettling critique of society’s ever-growing disenfranchisement, isolation, and desperation. Looking at his work, one can easily understand that the artist is not advocating for violence, which he, instead weaponizes in the battle with apathy. What’s alarming for Peterson in our world is not the poverty, injustice, and cruelty by themselves, but the lack of reaction to them.


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“I’m just documenting the world as I see it. I don’t have a super-optimistic view of what’s happening. I don’t think technology equals progress, equals all of us getting along in the future, equals world peace. There’s some fucked-up shit out there, and it’s better to talk about it and confront it than to just ignore it”. His art is based on a series of fighting dualities: self and other, human and non-human, living and dead. Under this spectrum, wavering between the binaries Peterson gives his own perception of what a monster is. The figures he creates are living under an authoritarian system and are either exercising power or suffering from it. In the world of Peterson, this cruelty is deforming for human nature and deprives his characters of freedom and happiness, condemning them to a dystopic and distorted version of reality. These monstrous figures are, in fact, reflections of the most unsettling aspects of ourselves. The art of Peterson is holding the viewers accountable for their actions or non-actions and functions as a mirror of the most scatological and grotesque part of society.

The visuality of his work is based on a variety of influences, from ancient Greek pottery to comics, resulting in monochromacy and strong color symbolism. In more detail, the figures exist on multiple straight lines, something that, subsequently, creates the illusion that the artwork is divided in levels. The perspective and the impression of depth do moderately exist in the art of Peterson and, just like in Greek vases, the background space is usually left empty or slightly embellished. On the other hand, in some cases, the artworks of Peterson are accompanied by a phrase, typically brief (e.g. Stop the Virus, Destroy America, Freedom, Prosperity at any price etc.), a clear reference to comics and to the art of Shephard Fairey, with whom the artist has collaborated. Colors play an important role as well, not only from an aspect of delimiting the space of the artworks, given the general lack of outlines but more significantly as carriers of meaning. The pallet of the artist usually contains 4 colors: black, white, red and yellow. Black can be linked to power and restrain, white to safety and purity. Red, instead, may be an indicator of rage, anger, longing and vigor, while yellow, with which the artist usually replaces red, can be viewed as a reference to deceit, sickness and danger.

The connection of Peterson with street art is also an aspect of his work worth mentioning. Even though he has created numerous murals all over the world, the artist himself does consider himself a street artist: “I don’t think of myself as a street artist or somebody that does work in that vein, but I love the idea of doing large paintings that confront people.”. This is revealing of his motivation to make his art as accessible as possible, as a way to invite the viewers to interact with it and confront the subjects the artist is interested in addressing. This brings up the following questions concerning the art of Peterson: “What is the meaning of it? Does it have a meaning after all? If yes, is this pre-determined by the artist? In order to better understand the way meaning is created in the world of Cleon Peterson, it is essential to, primarily, understand the way he perceives the media as a field of allegations, unbased rumors, suppositions and outright lies. In the world that the artist has created and, in correlation with our own reality, media is a tool of manipulation in the hands of politicians, leaving us helpless and in the mercy of an exploitative authoritarian system.  

Peterson’s response to this is art: “Art has a special power that, say, the media doesn’t have: it asks the individual to participate in creating meaning. When you look at the piece of work, it’s up to you to figure out what’s going on. Whereas you can see stuff in the news, and you can just passively watch it, and think that it doesn’t really apply to you. But if an artwork is interesting enough that it actually draws you in, and you become part of it, and you interject your worldview on whatever the artwork is about, then that’s great. I like people to have opinions.”  As a result, meaning for Peterson is created by the audience through the interaction that he mediates in-between the art and it. In other words, he is drawing inspiration from today’s bleak reality in order to raise questions about it, the answers to which are to be provided by the audience, which is actually, experiencing this exact reality at this moment. The artist wants us to reflect on the current reality with his artworks as a starting point. His intention is to make us aware of the real image of the world we live in. 

The art of Peterson has a strong anti-establishment character and anger, as a creative force, is present throughout most of his artworks. The subject of anger is the artist and with his work, he is turning against society’s deepest weariness and malaise. “Everything I do is a reaction to the world we live in.”, he says. Naturally, his art is mesmerizing, yet disturbing, highlighting a sinister part of our culture, with emphasis on the marginalized ones, who are trapped in a battle with power and submission, often waged between two interchangeable forces.