If you want to visit Sammy Peters in his studio, you will be directed to a former sign fabricating and painting shop located adjacent to a stretch of Little Rock's declining urban sprawl noted for its visual offensiveness. Upon entering his shop, however, you find a spacious atelier attached to a storefront where printing and stenciling were done for banners and signs. When I visited, the gently lighted studio was filled with the subtle complexities of a Bach fugue mixed with the smells of paint and thinner. Sammy Peters learned about drawing and painting as well as the more quotidian aspects of commercial art growing up in his father's shop. He knows billboard art and the secrets for creating large surfaces with recognizable content and flat fields of color and letters that stay in one plane. Mass marketing concentrates on describing what the eye sees. In marked contrast, Peters paints to satisfy the visual sense and for the delectation of the inner eye.
Stylistically, Peters' work belongs to the tradition of abstract expressionism--perhaps America's greatest single contribution to the history of art. This movement dominated New York in the years immediately following the Second World War. It was an extremely individualistic style signifying, perhaps, the assertion of the individual in response to the defeat of totalitarianism. Artistically, it signaled a strong reaction against the tight, analytical and anemic-colored surfaces of the Cubists. Abstract expressionist painting is characterized as painterly and the painted surface is a record of the dramatic gestures that were used to lay on the pigments. Among the early contributors to the movement were Pollock, De Kooning, Hofmann, Kline, Still and Rothko.
For the uninitiated observer who is untrusting of nonrepresentational art in general, and unfamiliar with Sammy Peters' art in particular, it might be difficult to understand his loosely painted surfaces or respond to the pulsating immediacy of the dynamics of his designs. By what standard do you evaluate this bold brush work, the lack of narration or description and the drippy gestural annotations? Viewed, however, within the context of historical development, one will come to understand the aesthetic concerns of the artist and the sincerity of his effort to further this particular direction in painting. The longer one studies his paintings the more one will appreciate the uniqueness of each piece and admire the vitality of his technique that differentiates one work from another. How difficult it is to make the invisible visible or give shape to the unconscious impulses utilizing only lines, shapes, colors and rhythms. For Peters, each work is a dynamic statement of his concerns as an artist. Peters is most demanding of himself and makes each new work a departure from what came before.
The dynamic quality of Peters' paintings reflects the tradition of abstract action painting and especially the work of Pollock who evolved a technique of dripping and smearing paint on a large canvas removed from the easel and placed on the ground. Peters also works generally on a large scale, sometimes attaching the surface to be painted to the wall of his studio. The canvas become, therefore, an environment or field in which the artist's actions are recorded. Pollock would often not know the final dimensions of the work until he had stopped painting and cut the finished piece out of the canvas field and attached it to a stretcher. Peters, perhaps as a reflection of his training and experience as a sign painter, often works with a standard module of 90x68 inches or variations thereof. In contrast to most earlier abstract expressionists, Peters will sometimes work on a diptych or triptych format thus expanding the field on which he paints.