Friday, December 10, 2010

Artist Spotlight: Christopher Peet



Christopher Peet is a hardworking, local Toronto artist who has recently finished a painting entitled "Songs in the Tree of Life." While his previous work tended towards watercolours with a special emphasis on architectural detail, this painting explores universal themes in a surrealistic manner. He also teaches art, and he has contributed political cartoons to many Canadian newspapers and magazines.

Although the surrealistic influence is new, this painting still shows his meticulous rendering of the built world, with a wood-paneled dwelling dominating the top right third of the painting. Its blue eaves and window edges "rhyme" with the blue of the sky. The two dormers stick out of the house's face at improbable angles, the one in the background seeming subject to the pull of the arc of the brick structure. This structure itself suggests a bridge, with the water underneath likewise at a surprising angle to the bridge. This water is painted as if the viewer is looking into a well. The water is implied skillfully through the presence of ripples, but ultimately left transparent, so the viewer can see a small clutch of narwhales.


To the right of the painting, the bricks lose their cohesiveness in a furious fire that evokes creation and destruction simultaneously. Creation is suggested through the connotative association of bricks to the ovens in which the materials of earth are transformed into bricks by human labour. All the elements are represented. A herd of land animals gathers at the apex of the brick bridge; narwhales swim in the pebble-bedded well water; and two butterflies dominate the air in the upper left third of the painting. The tree, emerging out of the clouds in the sky, is an organism of the earth; half of the tree in reality -- the root system -- hides underground.


The herd of animals on the bridge are painted in a more ambiguous manner than the incredible detail of other areas of the painting. When I spoke with the artist, he said he painted pairs of animals – giraffes, elephants, seals, deer, and bears – to represent in partial form the story of Noah's Ark, which puns on the arc-like curve of many of the lines of the painting. Putting the focus on the butterflies effectively challenges the tradition of centering the focus of the painting, and emphasizes the notion of transformation.


The "tree of life" ironically has no leaves, and its Kabbalistic and Edenic connotations tease out the both biblical and materialist resonances of the painting in a refreshingly complex way. At the right side of the painting, the artist's hand is painted, in the act of reaching for the house. This implies both the human influence over the material world: our active re-shaping of the world around us, as well as the longing for home and shelter. Below the hand and above the house are planetary bodies; the red one evokes mars and earth respectively.


The point of view of the painting is not grounded in one point around which the perspective is arranged; it is deployed in a diffuse, if not fragmentary manner. That earth's various manifestations are visible to the viewer at the same time as the earth itself, as if from space, presents us with a surreal assemblage. In this dream-like scene, we are granted the privilege of seeing things we could never see juxtaposed in real life.


I see some modernist echoes in this painting as well. The tree in the sky is reminiscent of Magritte's floating Castle, which itself perhaps referred to Kafka's novel of the same name. And the transformation of earth into building materials and elements is evocative of Diego Rivera's murals at the Detroit Institute of Art.


"Songs in the Tree of Life" is being sold for $8000. Its size is 24 x 24", and it is acrylic on canvas. You can get a high-quality print for $500 or $600 depending on whether you want it printed on canvas or paper (canvas is the more expensive), and there are extra charges up to $125 depending on how you want it framed and stretched (regular: $100, gallery-style: $125). You can visit him on the web here: http://www.christopherpeet.com/index.html.

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