The Abstract Paintings of Sammy Peters

Abstraction today exists, as it did forty years ago in the work of the Abstract Expressionists, or almost eighty years ago in the work of the Russian avant-garde, as a preeminent challenge for any artist who chooses nonrepresentational imagery as his subject. Sammy Peters has taken up the challenge as evidenced in this selection of recent paintings.

Without the convenient availability of a wealth of images extant in the world we view daily, Peters, like any abstract artist, must search other realms of vision, tap other resources to guide the placement of paint on a surface toward a meaningful visual statement.

In several large canvases like Subsequent Metaphor, 1985 or small works on paper likeFoolish Spectre, 1985, for example, a few shapes reoccur in each work, particularly a triangle or "wedge" and at least one dominating rectangular shape. While each has its original source, like music, or a photograph, or a scene in the country, Peters' particular sensibility, one cognizant of unconscious impressions, elicits images beyond the basic, object experience.

However, Peters' art is more than just a compilation of mystical renderings. Each work is a dynamic interplay of multiple concerns. The paintings in this current selection are aesthetic exercises in the artistic balancing act of opposing forces.
The dominant set of opposing forces in these paintings is harmony and discord. Each presents different impressions to the viewer, sensations of rhythm and stability, or uncertainty and aggression. Peters sets up the conflict in the arena of the canvas during the strenuous painting process, and once complete, he unleashes the forces for the viewer's engagement.

The forces of harmony and discord are evident in the composition and color of the works. In Neutrino Interaction, 1985, titled like all of his works from unconscious word messages, the green rectangle, the white rectangle and the red triangle may be seen as stable "passages" in the work. And yet the green is not a pure color for other colors emerge from within. Nor is the white pure for calligraphic elements appear. And foremost among the three, the red triangle appears on the canvas at a place where a variety of calligraphic strokes meet, having boldly interrupted the canvas plane. This aggressive intrusion into the space is strongest where Peters' color seems at first more lyrical, as in the white of Evening Faith II, 1985, and the brilliant red of White Roofs, 1985.

Instead of allowing a single conflict of compositional elements and color, Peters provides numerous counterpoints throughout the rest of the canvas, like the vertical bank in Cerrillos Transforming,1985, or the surrounding bluish field in Karmic Relief, 1985.

Similar dualities occur in the works completed this year. In both the large Jaded Merger and the smaller Merger and Acquisition, curved organic shapes appear above a rectangular shape. And with a seemingly conscious choice of a more limited palette, both works rely on a stronger contrast of values.

The reference to the arena of the canvas is important ot an appreciation of Peters' work. The canvases are more than clever plays of geometric points and counter points or of artificial invention. Peters enjoys a freedom from the formulae that existed in abstraction's early history. His obsession is the struggle to elicit line, shape, form, color, movement and space from unconscious sources and to make them visible on a picture plane.

Peters has developed his own set of objectives for his abstract painting. By his own admission each painting must show the "marks and struggles of the work as it comes into existence." On the more intuitive level, abstraction must transcend the artist and the process to speak eloquently of its own integrity. And finally it should endeavor to approach that intangible expression where the viewer and the object find their own dialogue in a unique, personal language.
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Michael Preble is a photographer, art writer, museum curator now living in Hot Springs, Arkansas