Contributed by Riad Miah / “Just Hold On,” the title of Gary Petersen’s second show at McKenzie Fine Arts on the Lower East Side, fits the arresting energy of his work, his playful palette, and the rich provenance of his geometric abstractions. Perhaps he is referring to the moment a person in mid-conversation decides to pause and multi-task. Like his previous work, the recent paintings and drawings incorporate tight, hard-edge shapes akin to those of the Jenga game and similar architecture. They recall the work of Al Held, Walter Dexel, and Kazimir Malevich, and resemble that of contemporary artists like Steve McCallum and Trudy Benson. Stacked topsy-turvy, the shapes reflect an aesthetic that John Yau has aptly described as “geometric abstraction with a sense of humor.”
In several pieces, Petersen’s shapes seem stretched out, as if he has scanned standard geometric configurations and elongated them with Photoshop. One of these, Hitch Hiker, consists of three segments. The left presents a warm pallette of pinks, yellows, and burgundy and the right cooler hues including turquoise and institutional green, while the wider center offers a balanced combination of warm and cool tones. The painting, in its resourceful composition and systematic organization, evidences an artist who possesses and values comprehensive control over his materials and formal vocabulary.
Beyond the canvas, Petersen is astutely alert to the world he lives in. Like Hitch Hiker, Split Screen involves a uniform surface interrupted by a sharp vertical break. The title evokes smart-phones, flat-screen televisions, late-model computers, and other accoutrements of the digital age. The geometry of each side of the painting is quite like that of the other, but the sides’ respective colors diverge, one being subdued and the other bright. That contrast seems to acknowledge the difference between the real and the virtual, while the adjacency and spatial equality of the segments suggests that the two realms are uneasily coalescing, with neither dominating the other.
Finally, Petersen, while clearly appreciative of continuity, embraces formal evolution. Out of Hand, Tumble, and Wonder Lust feature curved arches, new to his work, that echo Stuart Davis’s jazzy aesthetic and, in their circumscription of pictorial space, reveal visual themes of twentieth-century Constructivism. Reinforcing this historical influence are the works on paper, which it’s clear were purposefully meant to facilitate the creation of the paintings. In its fine-grained integration of social observation and a generous range of art-historical underpinnings, Petersen’s exhibition is a remarkably eclectic yet thoroughly original accomplishment.
“Gary Petersen: Just Hold On,” McKenzie Fine Art, 55 Orchard Street, New York, NY. Through October 20, 2019.