This past month I had a particularly enlightening trip down memory lane, inspired by the sale of a favorite piece from a previous series.
When in college I did a series of art based on Shakespeare’s Richard III- I was so enamored with Sir Laurence Olivier’s movie I decided to create paintings with the characters in different contexts and times.
When in my 30’s, I created work based on mythology from ancient Greece and pagan Europe.
I love and enjoy observational painting, but I seem compelled to tell a story with my art, to create a narrative. I am driven to explore and share the landscape of my imagination. The sale of Athena Stays the Dawn brought back memories of all the ways I have used art to tell stories. It seems that the act of telling a story is more important than the trappings of time and place and specific characters.
For now, I am entirely caught up in the dark labyrinth of film noir. But who knows what stories my future art will tell?
If you are interested in seeing my work based on The Odyssey, visit this page on my website.
If you want to read posts about it, here are some links to my blogposts about it.
Georgia O'Keeffe is one of those rare artists who is a household name, whose work is instantly recognizable. She is known, of course, for her flower imagery, and her depictions of the American South West landscape. But she also did glorious, imaginative citiscapes.
This piece, Watch, is still in process (though it seems to be close to being done). When I decided to add the lighted windows, I was taking a huge artistic risk and it changed the whole piece. It is The Ritz Tower by Georgia O'Keeffe that has been guiding me through.
Watch is 20x40, and has collaged newspaper, as well as collaged windows.
Lately, I have found that the figures in my art are starting to speak to me and have a life of their own, just like might happen with an author. I had an interesting thing happen along these lines.
Usually, when I need to draw a male figure, I take pictures of myself in male drag. First I draw what I see in the photograph, then go on to “masculinize” myself. I flatten the chest, broaden the shoulders, narrow the hips, square the jaw, and so on. I was all set to go through this process to create a piece that eventually became The Knave of Swords seen here. I used some binding to flatten my chest under my shirt. Then I realized I needed a new reference photograph of myself without the shirt on in order to understand the position of the shoulders.
That’s when the character took on a life of its own. Then I realized I had a treasure.
To learn more, this is a totally fun video about the origin of the word "Butch" and what it means. https://www.them.us/story/inqueery-butch
From this experience, new pieces featuring butch women with binding have emerged. This one is currently called Circle Mirror, and I plan to develop this into a painting soon.
I am currently developing this one into a painting entitled The Hanged Man.
So far, I am not sure the folks who follow me on social media, where I have posted images of the drawings, have picked up on the gender of the character, or the presence of binding. I seem to be sneaking up on this new path slowly and quietly, perhaps attempting a bit of "passing" myself.
To be clear, I know that as a cisgender female in a heterosexual marriage, I will never fully understand the experiences of a non-binary, or otherwise queer person. But I also feel drawn to respect the identities of my characters, as well as celebrate the myriad orientations and identities of the people in my community and beyond.
Below, if you click on my youtube link, you can see a slideshow video of the progression of this saga, from the initial photographs to the point at which I traced the drawing to another paper.
Oh, and by the way, Happy Pride Month!
To learn a bit more about gender identity, click here.
After doing mostly collage for a few years, I have taken a turn to painting again. Although I love the effect of the collage, painting provides me with agility and fluidity that I have come to miss. When I wish to alter or change a piece, a simple swipe of the brush and it is done.
It is a wonderment to me that during this time of increased awareness of the plight of Asian Americans, and during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month that my latest male figure should arrive in the form of a sexy, bad-ass Asian man.
With this new beauty, I felt inspired to make a painting with a woman playing cards with us, the viewer, and at the same time doling out our fate. A real woman, and a quasi-super-natural element of fate at the same time. The question was, which suit should I make her? Which suit would pack the most amount of symbolic punch?
I solved it by creating an engaging online poll in my social media communities, asking my fans to vote on which suit, hearts or diamonds would best represent my newest femme fatale. The Queen of Hearts got a good showing, The Queen of Diamonds was the undisputed winner.
If you are interested in witnessing the blow-by-blow, non-stop action of what it takes to create an artpiece, you can follow me on social media:
In this short video, you can watch me paint the diamond on this card of Fate!
I am fascinated by playing cards and their symbolism. I recently felt inspired to make a painting with a woman playing cards with us, the viewer, and at the same time doling out our fate. A real woman, and a quasi-super-natural element of fate at the same time.
I started to research the four card suits and any symbolic meanings that might be associated with them. I was especially enjoying The Queen of Spades. In cartomancy she is supposed to represent a woman who is intelligent and strategic. She is also featured in a book by Pushkin and an opera by Tchaikovsky. Sometimes she is called The Black Madonna, Black Maria, or The Black Lady, and is considered a powerful, “unlucky” card. In Hearts and Old Maid, she has the power to end the game. There is a variant of Seven Card Stud Poker where she is featured called “The Bitch”. In Pinochle she and The Jack of Diamonds make a significant hand, boding doom for one’s opponent. I thought she would be the perfect candidate for this femme fatale, this goddess of chaos I was dreaming up. I was even considering making a companion piece called The Jack of Diamonds.
Way back in 1998 I saw the movie Bulworth. In it there is a scene where the main character, played by Warren Beatty, says to an audience full of African Americans “Let’s call a spade a spade” and the crowd erupted with indignation. Ever since then I have passively wondered about that and I thought now was the time to look up the phrase.
It turns out it has evolved into a racial slur.
The evolution of the phrase is fascinating. It used to mean “call it like it is”. It comes from an ancient Greek saying "to call a fig a fig and a trough a trough." Which is in itself a sexual double entendre- get it? Figs? Troughs? (Never mind. It seems like everything back then was a sexual double entendre.)
So, it was a simple matter of rethinking my metaphors. Away from the stormy waters of the suit of spades and toward the equally intriguing subjects of Love and Money. Love with The Queen of Hearts, and money with the heartless Queen of Diamonds. In fact, I turned it to my advantage by creating an engaging online poll in my social media communities, asking my fans to vote on which suit, hearts or diamonds would best represent my newest femme fatale. The Queen of Hearts got a good showing, The Queen of Diamonds was the undisputed winner.
But those of you who have followed my art for a while know that it wasn’t always that way.
For many years I did work in a very different style, based on vintage snapshots of ordinary people. This body of work evokes feelings of wistful nostalgia.
They are boldly drawn with thin layers of paint over visible wood grain. It was a popular and satisfying method that worked for me for years before I felt the need to evolve and change.
The website is organized into three pages under Portfolio. Each image on each page has a clear indication of where to inquire about the piece, and if you feel so moved, how to buy it.
visit www.lesliepetersonsapp.com to see all my work, current and otherwise!
Another way to explore this earlier style is to visit previous blogposts, especially the years 2013 and before. Look at the Archive section on the right side of this page to investigate.
With narrative art such as mine, we are reminded that there is more than one way to tell a story. Some are told with words, others with sounds, body movement, or images.
My last show was entitled “Story Without a Plot”, which demonstrates how I am driven to tell stories with my art, even if it is implied and not explained with words.
I use the elements of design to support a narrative. Deep focus emphasizes the distance between people, even in a closed room. Dramatic value changes create mood and mystery. Silhouettes and profiles obscure the identity of the characters and create an even larger screen for us to project our stories on.
On my social media I often share posts about other artists who inspire me. I have decided to start a blog post series based on the same thing. Here is the first installment.
Suzanne Valadon has what might be the coolest biography anyone could hope for.
She was born named Marie-Clémentine Valadon in Montmartre district of Paris.
What is Montmartre? The site of the famous Moulin Rouge, and an incubator of art and culture. A partial list of artists who hung out there over the years include Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, van Gogh, Raoul Dufy, Picasso, Les Nabis (Vuillard, Bonnard), Matisse, André Derain, and later Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, and Django Reinhardt.
She started modeling for artists, such as Puvis de Chavannes, Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec. During this time, she gained the nickname "Suzanne" after the biblical story of Susanna and the Elders (a story where dirty old men spy on a naked young woman).
Valadon’s work seems to be mostly post-impressionism, but she really stood out because of the subjects she was willing to handle.
Most female painters at that time, such as Cassatt and Morisot confined themselves to landscape, still life, and domestic scenes involving children and women. Valadon painted all these subjects, as well... but she also did nudes.
And she painted nude men, unheard of at that time, and one of the first and few examples of a man being seen through the “female gaze”.
At 18, Valadon had a son who also became a famous painter, Maurice Utrillo. She married twice, once to a wealthy banker, and then to a man 21 years younger than she, Andre Utter. She died of a stroke in 1938 at age 72.
To top off the world’s coolest biography, she also has a crater on Venus named after her. And an asteroid.
How cool is that?
March is Women's History month. During this time I am contemplating my position as a female artist, creating narrative art.
Part of the enduring fascination we have with noir is the inclusion of powerful female characters. The zenith of film noir was from the 1930’s-1950’s a time of extraordinary change for women, particularly during WWII, when they took up jobs vacated by men who were off at war. The war, plus the changing role of women in society, created nationwide anxiety, much like the anxiety evidenced in our own times.
In my own work I am wrestling with the issues of stereotypes- am I perpetuating them? Does the work I produce actually uphold my values? My use of nostalgia and depictions of a by-gone era seems to give me license to stay in my comfort zones and repeatedly depict figures that are young, slender, and largely white.
During this time of celebrating love and romance, I remember that quote a friend of mine said many years ago: “Romance is about NOT being fulfilled, it’s about longing.”
So let us distinguish between the two: Love. Romance.
Love is wholesome and sees its object as a full person, whether that person is your date, your spouse, your child, friend, parent.
Romance is about the tension that is held between you and an object of your desire. That can include love- or not.
So this Valentines Day, let us raise a glass to the darker sides of our nature.
Here are the hotsheets with the sordid details, the true confessions, and the inside info on my artistic process. Learn how it all happens right here!