Human carnage and bloodletting has been a constant theme in the arts. Shakespeare, Goya, and even the Bible have freely portrayed the slaughter humans inflict upon both others, and also the sinister battles within. The art of Los Angeles artist Cleon Peterson keeps the tradition alive by embracing and exploring the dark nether regions of our primordial psyche, vicariously questioning civilized society through his brutal depictions of human suffering. “End of Days” introduces a reversed polarity into Peterson’s brutal world. A world not inherited by the meek, rather the vengeful and merciless. In the midst of his narrative, throats are slashed, abdominals gouged, and bodies beaten. Civilians are savagely attacked by their tormentors, who Peterson refers to as “shadows”. They’re not assaulted to the point of death, however, but so they may live to endure further suffering.
His large scale painting titled “Power” is a tightly woven depiction of heightened ferocity, yet something slightly unusual is happening amongst the chaos. In the corner of the canvas, one shadow is tenderly placing a blanket over the abused. The viewer is left to question whether the shadow suddenly gained a conscience, or is the civilian merely being carefully tucked away to be victimized another day.
Over the years, Peterson has noted his dark beings as representing both sides of the psyche meaning that which expresses and represses. In works like “The Dark Rider” and “The Practice of Masters”, the shadows are in combat with each other thereby conveying notions of inner anguish and strife. It’s evident Peterson is working through a few demons himself, and he invites us to confront and acknowledge our own personal inner conflict with these pieces.
Though Peterson’s work is violent, it isn’t aimed to shock. There isn’t gratuitous nudity, rotting corpses or other heightened shock value. The blood is virtually colorless. His minimal yet striking color palette helps to keep the focus on the psychology behind our debauched behavior rather than its visual outcome. “End of Days” is barbarous, visually challenging, but most of all thought provoking. It leaves the viewer with more questions than answers about the moral constraints that society and our own psyche places upon us.
"End of Days" runs through April 12th at New Image Art Gallery.