Jean-Guerly Pétion “Americana Dreaming”

532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel

poster for Jean-Guerly Pétion “Americana Dreaming”
[Image: Jean-Guerly Pétion "Americana Dreaming" (2020) Acrylic, barbed wire, on masonite, 27 x 27 in.]

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Americana Dreaming, an exhibition of new works by the Haitian-born artist Jean-Guerly Pétion at 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel presents a disorderly, non-thematic body of work executed with stunning visual flair and stamped with a highly distinctive graphical sensibility. Fiercely, even overtly polemical, these artworks foreground the emotional life of the Black artist while simultaneously alluding to a broad range of literary and theoretical influences, ranging from classical myth to post-structuralist philosophy.

Using techniques from painting, mixed media, and assemblage, Pétion creates phantasmagorical vision-scapes in which colorful decorative elements, surrealist symbols, and potent images of Black identity come together in a dynamic visual carnival. Images of butterflies, flowers, soccer balls, and ferns create an oneiric vocabulary of signs and symbols; elsewhere, a series of densely layered abstractions, suggestive of TV static or electronic noise, showcase the artist’s abiding interest in repetition as a formal tactic.

Americana Dreaming (2020; 27” x 27”, acrylic and barbed wire on masonite) is a forceful image of Black freedom and the denial thereof by a racist and oppressive society. A Black woman’s face, painted in dense and vivid colors reminiscent of the work of Beauford Delaney, looks out at the viewer with an unreadable look — sombre? tragic? defiant? while her hand, caressing a startling blond braid, protrudes from the American flag she is draped in. Most strikingly, the figure is outlined in actual barbed wire, which has been affixed to the surface of the painting; a crushingly specific and alarming visual touch. This sculptural touch endows the composition with a dimensionality that heightens the effect’s chilling impact. The word “Americana”, meanwhile, is redolent of artifacts, trinkets, kitsch, the manufactured visual language of a country trying to sell itself on its own image, but the reality of this image plays against this retrograde word with vatic force.

In Between Beneath the Mirror (2018-2020; 80”x 54”, mixed media: paper, fabrics, and acrylic on canvas) features an enigmatic dark-skinned figure with angel wings, blowing a trumpet beneath a sky spangled with lights and butterflies. This mysterious image, with its biblical overtones, seems to call up myriad associations without being tied down to any literal or narrative framework. It speaks of freedom and joy, maybe, but it has a haunted quality; the figure is encircled by a plank fence, suggesting limitations of ambit and agency. The disjunction of the figure’s ethereal background and the jaunty harlequin colors of the figure’s trousers adds an irreverent de-centering visual factor.

Ungazed (2020; 36” x 24,” mixed media: acrylic, paper, and fabric on canvas), meanwhile, is an ouroboros-like jeu d’esprit that deliberately complicates the relation between artist / subject, painting / object, and viewer. A black face stares out at the viewer from behind a mask made of collaged newspaper, against another colorful harlequin background; the figure’s look is again difficult to qualify, falling somewhere between resignation and fear. The mask, upon closer inspection, is covered by a yellow plastic mesh taken from a bag of lemons — another sardonic sculptural effect, this one implying that words, newspapers, media, can silence and obfuscate as much as communicate, and that like lemons — or maybe lemonade — they can be sour or sweet. The visual fissure between the naked, staring eyes and the masked nose and mouth suggests an irremediable break between vision and language, expression and understanding.

Pétion, who has also authored surrealistic erotic narratives set in Port-au-Prince and in New York City, himself speaks of the ideas behind his work in dense, gnomic fragments. He describes the work featured in Americana Dreaming as “a series of failures” whose “lacunae and repetition intentionally perform a syncretic cathartic liberating gesture” and whose “fragments and images are actually connected” as part of a “trajectory of rhizomic lines of flight and events.”

This tensile theoretical armature derives from his readings of the work of deconstructionist writers like Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan, as well as post- colonialist scholars such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, whose concept of the subaltern informs the polemicist thrust and liberatory energy of much of Pétion’s visual narratives. The contrast between the hothouse explosion of Pétion visual style and the cool, cerebral armature of its intellectual grounding lends his artistic practice the gravity borne of a bracing dialectical interplay.

Jean-Guerly Pétion was born in Haiti and studied at the Kansas City Art Institute (BFA) and at CalArts (MFA). His paintings confront emotionally charged first- and third-world class issues via theoretical texts and compelling images. His art has been featured in the California African American Museum and the 18th Street Art Center. He currently lives in Los Angeles, California.



from September 09, 2021 to October 16, 2021

Opening Reception on 2021-09-08 from 18:00 to 20:00

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