“Beauty is nought else but mixture made of colours fair, and goodly temp’rament of pure complexions, that shall quickly fade and pass away, like to a summer’s shade” (Edmund Spenser, An Hymne in Honour of Beautie). When viewing Joshua Petker’s figurative paintings, we find ourselves completely unarmed, overcome with that same graceful spirit of elusiveness conveyed in Spenser’s poetry. Born in Van Nuys, CA in 1979, Joshua Petker’s richly neon colored depictions of women, youth, time and mutability are an excellent breeding ground for an artistic investigation of contemporary cultural identity . He’s, as unbelievable as it sounds, a self-taught artist with a background in street art, western history, art and culture. We got to know Joshua and his latest body of work a little better by asking a few questions.
UNTITLED (SWARM II), 2011, acrylic and ink on canvas, 48 x 36
Hi, Joshua, you received a degree in Western History at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. After studying abroad in Florence in 2001, you decided to pursue a degree in Fine Arts. Do you remember the precise moment when you said to yourself «Art is what I’m going to do, no matter what happens, no matter how long it takes, I’ll live for that»
There wasn’t a precise moment but there was a first painting and in creating that first painting an experience that left me feeling that art would be everything for me. I had been pursuing a degree in History and my only connection to making art at that time was painting graffiti on trains. I was raised by parents who were musicians and though they were creative types I wasn’t raised around art. Once I exposed myself to art during my last year of college I realized I had found my calling. Making art is what I do.
Most of your early paintings revealed an idealized portrayal of female figures elevated to an imperfectly perceived and intangible beauty. The accuracy of facial features perfectly combined with the overwhelming, chaotic, metamorphosing color. In 2010, We’re Not As Colorful As We Think We Are brought something different to the previous series, melting the glowing abstraction of landscapes with its silent characters. Did you feel the compelling urge to create something more cohesive and purposeful in your paintings? In what ways do you think your work has improved or evolved since then?
That show, We’re Not As Colorful As We Think We Are, was the most cohesive and thoughtful body of work I had made up to that time. It was exactly as you say, ‘a compelling urge to create something more cohesive and purposeful’, that helped inform the show. For better or worse in my history I started to exhibit my first paintings almost as soon as I started to paint them. I never benefited from years of working in an academic environment with other artists. But, as the years went by, and while I continued to paint, I studied on my own and I became more knowledgeable. I saw more art, learned more about art, and became more thoughtful about the interests that inspire my art. I realized that behind my interests in identity and mortality was a greater interest in vastness. We’re Not As Colorful As We Think We Are was the result of those realizations and my first attempt at exploring vastness in my work.
It has been only a year’s time since that show opened in San Francisco. Since that time I’ve continued to explore and expand on these interests in identity, mortality, and unlimited space and I’ve continued to push my paintings in new ways.
I MISS MISSING YOU, acrylic on canvas, 24×24
DON’T WALK AWAY, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 24” x 20″
GONE FISHING, 2010, acrylic on canvas 20 x 44″
Earlier this fall, you participated in Pulse LA and Moniker London Art Fairs with LeBasse Projects. Your latest body of work draws on many cinematic influences reflecting the historic Old West. Actually, I’m very intrigued by the girl painted in Spaghetti Western I and II. She reminds me of the beautiful mixture of tenderness and strength of Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Katharine Ross in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Would you agree with that? Have you ever found creative inspiration in cinema for your art? Tell us a little more about this new great series..
The Spaghetti Western paintings are Western motifs playfully represented and born of the landscape paintings I made for We’re Not As Colorful As We Think We Are. I had been thinking about the romantic idea of ‘going west’ both in the present moment and as a historical American narrative. The outlaw West. Guns. Cowboys. Vast open space. I’m interested in this escapism. And, as mentioned, I’m interested in vastness. I’m also very fascinated by Los Angeles and the cinematic celebrity obsessed history here. Annie Oakley was a sharpshooter and exhibition shooter and has been considered the first female superstar in America. I used images of her as the starting point for those specific paintings you asked about. This small series of works was created for the first Pulse Contemporary Art Fair in Los Angeles (previously only in NY and Miami) which occurred at nearly the same time as the opening of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time exhibition so the idea of being from the West was on my mind.
UNTITLED (SPAGHETTI WESTERN II), 2011, acrylic and ink on canvas, 48 x 36
UNTITLED (SAILING I), 2011, acrylic and ink on canvas, 48 x 36
What makes the difference between Art and Fashion design.
In general I think that conceptual or philosophical intent should be the driving purpose behind the work if it is art. Fashion is primarily made for a different purpose.
In 2009 you had the chance to work with the famous and flamboyant designer Jared Gold on a line of women’s clothing. How did this collaboration come about? Who approached whom?
Jared had approached me a year or two before we did the fashion experiment to inquire about having me create a stationary set for him. So, later when I became interested in the ideas of identity and fashion Jared was the person I went to and started to ask questions of. The end result was not exactly what I had been envisioning but it was an interesting experience and I learned a lot from it.
Is there any particular art/fashion project that you’d like to do today? If you could collaborate with a breakthrough fashion designer, who would it be and why?
I’m not as interested in fashion as I am in the ideas around identity and expressing oneself outwardly. I currently have no plans to do anything more with clothing.
A few months ago, you had the chance to participate in this group show presented by Réécrire, “Une Exposition de Dessins”. This is the first time your works are being shown in France, isn’t it? How do you feel about that?
I was very happy to send some new works on paper to France. Paris is a special city and I expect to show a more work there.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on an entirely new set of paintings for a solo show next Summer. June, 2012, at LeBasse Projects in Culver City.
DOROTHY, 2011, acrylic and ink on canvas, 24 x 24″
GINGER, 2011, acrylic and ink on canvas, 24 x 24″
Joshua Petker lives and works in Los Angeles. He has exhibited in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Paris, and the U.K. His work is currently on view at LeBasse Projects as part of the group show featuring the artists that will exhibit in 2012. Participating artists include Herakut, Mike Stilkey, Joshua Petker, Seonna Hong, Jim Houser, Tobias Keene, Katrin Fridriks, Nate Frizzell, Yoskay Yamamoto, Andrew Hem, Matt Haber and Melissa Haslam. The Exhibit runs from Jan 7th – Feb 4th, 2012.