ART IN AMERICA, April, 2006
page 160

Rooted in abstract forms that allude to figuration and in stolid forms that aspire to weightlessness, Gary Petersen's intriguingly contradictory artistic personality is so familiar to observers of New York abstraction that it is hard to believe that this was his first solo show here since his 1992 "White Room" project at White Columns. Titled "Colossal Youth," this convincing presentation of new work shows him refining his blend of assured drawing, cool, smooth surfaces and suave coloration that somehow yield highly personal paintings with a funny, clunky lilt. In them, a graphical vocabulary presses forward, squeezing out illusionism in favor of a flat space predicated on overlapping.

Three small, untitled pencil drawings dated 2004 feature various combinations of favored elements: striped fields and forms, subdivided ovals resembling foreshortened pie charts, and a loping border made of shallow arcs, like conjoined parentheses of various sizes. Though they do not relate directly to specific paintings, the drawings might be prototypes for canvases or, for that matter, variations based upon them. The artist is fond of a fat angle or wedge shape radiating stripes from its point; a deceptively simple device, emblematic of one-point perspective, it allows him to do cautiously crazy things with color as well as space. Two or three converge, or nearly, toward the center of several canvases; their implied infinite extension outward engages the space beyond the painting's edge. In the 8-foot-tall Breakout (oil on canvas; all paintings 2005) the linked curves are pulled back like a curtain to reveal those wedges, in jangly color progressions like orange-ocher against pale lavender against a hot greenish yellow, looming against a metallic silver ground. In Colossal Youth, similarly structured but smaller, the palette is more conservative, mostly variations on neighboring hues: pinks, oranges and yellows. Two 23-by-30-inch acrylics on paper, one titled Starpower and the other untitled, are among those with hazy, spray-painted grounds across which the nuzzling, peacock wedges drift.

One searches in vain, in Petersen's intimations of modernist utopia, for a pictorial smirk, a signal that they are send-ups. In the stunning, concise Outside Tokyo (acrylic and enamel on wood panel, 24 by 30 inches), bands of limpid greens, pinks and blues are, again, contained within two acute angles, merging from above and below. Their tips are sheared and thus they might be striped planks, or a pair of tall buildings seen from street level against a salmon pink sky. This anecdotal reading is countered by a seven-pointed "explosion" shape, framing the wedges like a vignette and extending to the edges of the glossy orange panel. As in the paintings of Mary Heilmann and Joanne Greenbaum, the components Petersen works with are familiar and somewhat generic but their orchestration is singular. Not slick, actually a little fumbling, these paintings do not attempt to hide a certain awkwardness and vulnerability behind their sunny bravado, which makes them resoundingly human.

-STEPHEN MAINE