Stone sculptor returns to exhibiting after more than a decade with new Art Institute show
Although Don Peterson started making art 30 years ago and has had a successful exhibition career in the Twin Cities, he hasn't seriously shown his work in more than a decade. All that changed last week as his new exhibition opened in the John Ste...
Although Don Peterson started making art 30 years ago and has had a successful exhibition career in the Twin Cities, he hasn't seriously shown his work in more than a decade. All that changed last week as his new exhibition opened in the John Steffl Gallery at the Duluth Art Institute.
The 56-year-old artist, in a phone interview from his workplace in Lutsen, said he started out in the Twin Cities, living near the river, where he began working in found-object assemblages and later began carving out of materials he found around a railroad foundry.
Eventually, he moved to working in stone sculpture, which remains his primary medium today.
More than a decade ago, after a divorce, the father of five moved to the North Shore from the Twin Cities and stopped showing. But he still kept carving.
The Duluth Art Institute show has 25 to 30 of these sculptures, as well as a similar number of paper collages, something he's never shown anywhere before. In fact, he only started working with paper five years ago. "I've never been able to draw before," he admitted, "but something has changed recently."
"I've never exhibited a piece of paper before," he added.
Stone sculpture is something rarely seen in the area, notes Jeff Kalstrom, exhibitions coordinator at the institute.
"The stonework is kind of the thing that made us want to do the show, really, because I hadn't seen any of his collages," Kalstrom said.
He saw some of the work in Grand Marais and was so impressed he even owns a few pieces now.
"A lot of people have never seen stone sculpture," Kalstrom said. "It's just not very common these days."
Kalstrom says the sculptures play off both art and science, with themes coming from the shape of tiny grains of pollen, magnified. These themes mark starting points, though, for references to the human body, including suggestions of breasts, faces and genitalia.
"Oftentimes the human references are very sexy, very sensual," Kalstrom said.
Kalstrom describes the work as rough-textured and masculine, with voluptuous, rounded forms. "It has a really nice scale," he added. "The scale of his work is sort of baby sized."
But that's not true of the collages, some of which are about 3 inches by 3 inches, focusing on miniature, abstract shapes with a sense of spacial movement.
"It's a really marvelous contrast," Kalstrom said. "There couldn't be more of a contrast."
Kalstrom says the collages also sometimes represent biological processes.
For his part, Peterson says his method doesn't start out with the pollen images, but that's something that appeared in his work for a long time. His process is known as "carving direct" -- basically just pounding on the stone until the form starts to reveal itself. Very often something like pollen grains came out, he said.
He agrees that some are sexually charged. "Some of them do have a little bit of sexual energy about them, I've been told," he said.
But the pollen theme is changing.
"The work is getting more elaborate and away from the pollen thing a little bit," Peterson said.
In fact, he says the change is dramatic.
"The whole thing has to do with freedom," he said. "I really am attracted to the idea of no preconceptions, no input on them (the sculptures) at all. Right now they're just coming out extreme."
Peterson says getting back into exhibiting won't change his approach to his art at all.
"I work all the time," Peterson said. "I've been able to resist that attraction to perhaps finding a niche with something that sells. ... I'm not commercially interested enough to pursue that kind of thing."
Peterson says he's been fortunate to be able to create the art basically for his own purposes.
His work has rarely been shown in Duluth. He works in native basalts and sandstones.
The exhibition runs through January 25, and a dialogue with the artist, free and open to the public, will be held Tuesday, Nov. 18, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.