Cleon Peterson | Interview
Los Angeles based Cleon Peterson is an extraordinary artist and we had the opportunity to talk to him after his piece for Katowice Street Art Festival 2014. Enjoy a very inspiring interview for The re:art.
You were a guest of this year’s Katowice Street Art Festival, in Poland, where you painted a large mural. How was the experience, what did you like most and can you tell us more about this mural (theme, motifs, if the place inspired you and so on)?
Visiting Katowice, and Poland was amazing. It’s great to experience new places and meet new people. I really enjoyed learning about Poland’s history and economy and how it is changing. I also felt like the people had a great pride, optimism. Before we were in Katowice we visited Warsaw and after Krakow. The country has amazing historical landmarks. We visited the coal and silver mines in Katowice, and Auschwitz had a deep impact on me. It’s impactful to be on the actual ground that was devastated by war and genocide. We were also so close geographically and culturally to the Ukraine where there is conflict now. All of these experiences had an impact on me and I feel like our histories although different have similarities and cross into each other. So this war power oppression, brutality and terror was the subject of my mural. It’s a human subject that we all experience every day through media and our histories regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not.
Photo: Wojtek Nowak Fotografia
The world you reflect in your works is governed by brutality, violence, chaos, and, as you often mention, it is reality, past experiences and feelings of anger that inspire you. You also say that humans are now reverted to a state of nature. Is violence the basis of human actions? Does conflict define man, as a natural need, as a primary instinct? And if so, would you say you depict the beginning of days and not the end of days?
I do think it’s instinctual and always present in humanity. As long as there is inequality and the other there will be war and conflict. Of course, it isn’t the only aspect of our existence but it’s the part my work is about. I concentrate on the negative because I don’t have an issue with the positive. The world is already full of positivistic art. That art is great and functions to beautify but it doesn’t address issues I see as important and relevant to us all.
Power is a constant presence in your art. You have it or you don’t. Are there always masters and victims, oppressors and oppressed? And do you believe society is the one entertaining this brutal spectacle, and social rules, norms, laws rather help conflict emerge, intensify, while peace and harmony are only illusory and never to be gained objectives?
Peace and harmony are sometimes present but always temporary. I see masters and victims, oppressors and oppressed all around me. Law quells unrest and creates a functioning society but within that society there is still social and class dissidence. Some people have power and money while others don’t, this creates a system where there will always be fundamental inequalities and strife. I’m afraid Peace and harmony in a grand scale are just Utopian ideals.
Night Has Come
The Practice of Masters
We know you are interested in history and philosophy. What philosophical vision is closest to your own perspective on life and, combined with your knowledge in history, what would you say best describes human evolution? What has man achieved and lost along the way?
I don’t ascribe to any one philosophical perspective, just identify with bits here and there, Nietzsche, Foucault, Kant, these are guys I like. I’ve never deeply thought about Evolution but I guess I feel that we’re less developed than we give ourselves credit for.
What about your personal experiences? What did you gain and lose until now?
Personally I’ve been through the a lot. I’ve ascribed to group thought situations and then realized that I was losing my identity. I’ve been isolated and addicted to drugs to the point where I truly lost touch with reality. I’ve realized that we create our own narratives and stories for our lives by reexamining my history and my place in the world. In the end, the one thing I believe I’ve gained is the ability to trust my own instincts, emotions and feelings. There’s nothing worse than personal neurosis and self-doubt.
Eye for Eye
You say that your aim is to create meaningful art and that you want to generate a reaction. What kind of reaction? Would the viewer become more conscious about who he is, where he stands, what he does? In what way do you feel people connect to your art?
I want people to feel something when they see my paintings. The same feelings that I felt when I went to the Museums as a child. I don’t have an instrumentalist agenda or want to make people conform to my will and the way I see the world. My work is simply showing people how I see the world.
The Light Bearer
Once, you stated that people have the freedom to decide if they want to be part of the society they live in or not. Is it that easy? Do you feel you belong to the society you live in? How would a society you would agree with be like?
People are born into the society they are born into but people do have the choice to conform to the good or bad expectations, laws, rules that society imposes on them. I know that’s the case because I’ve disobeyed the laws of society and often been an outsider in my own society. There was a time when I tried to conform to conservative social values but when I did this I was deeply unhappy and felt like I’d traded in everything that made me. Today I’m not committing felonies everyday like I did in the past. I have personal balance. People don’t cross the street anymore when they see me coming but I still don’t feel like I’m an average citizen that blindly conforms to the rules and laws. I believe we all have an innate sensibility for what’s right and wrong and that there is a higher individual law that we need to live by instead of whatever social norms are prevalent in society. Ideally individuals respect one another and treat each other as they would like to be treated. I think that’s simple and would solve a lot of the world’s problems.
Struggle of Will (Power)
The Practice of Masters
Considering your mural at Katowice, would you be interested in continuing with mural painting, in parallel with you art gallery shows? What do you feel like doing next?
I love painting murals, I love putting large scale work up where people can see it on the streets. I’d like to just continue painting and getting the opportunity to visit more places and meet more people all over the world.
Images © Cleon Peterson & photos of the Katowice mural via the festival.