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Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011

Racine Art Museum Showcases 'Evolution | Revolution'

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As part of its effort to introduce regional artists from across America to the Midwest, the Racine Art Museum presents the exhibition "Michael Peterson: Evolution | Revolution." The 30-plus artworks display Peterson's evolving techniques and vision for wood sculptures over the past two decades. His artworks have been collected by Washington D.C.'s Smithsonian American Art Museum and its prestigious Renwick Gallery.

Peterson resides in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, a fiber artist, leading a life dedicated to harvesting the wood necessary to define his elegant sculptures. Six of his early works appear in the Richard V. and J. Price Ruffo Gallery, including the small vessel-shaped objects Teardrop (1987) and Collared Vessel (1991), which were created from maple burl and grass tree by using a lathe.

A progression can be seen in the exhibition's larger-scale pieces in Gallery II, for which Peterson used a chain saw to cut the wood before refining the artworks through bleaching, hand carving, pigmenting and sandblasting. His works provide serene reflections on the Northwest coast's landscapes, mountains, rock formations and shorelines.

While Peterson's more fluid sculptures find their inspiration in Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, Coastal Stack unveils a unique personal statement. Formed primarily from locust, madrone and blackwood burl, these textured rectangular forms remain perfectly balanced in tall, fascinating stacks that compel viewers to walk around them. Doing so will allow viewers to appreciate the painted pigments that sensually flow across the carved wood, as seen in Coastal Stack I and IV. Peterson's Coastal Stack V hides a smooth, bird-shaped form inside the uppermost rectangular block, conveying the natural habitats he lives with from sunrise to sunset.

An exquisite harmony exists throughout Peterson's evolution from lathe turner to hand carver, as he reduces his regional environment to an aesthetic essence. His sculptures layer metaphors for the natural beauty quietly disappearing across the country, most significantly in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps as Peterson continues to revolutionize his art, those meditating on his transcendent sculptures might consider how to preserve these pure, untouched landscapes for future generations.

A color catalog accompanies this traveling exhibition curated by the Bellevue Arts Museum.
"Michael Peterson: Evolution | Revolution" continues through Nov. 13.