In addition to provocative and sometimes mysterious images, which lead you into what he calls “small, almost claustrophobic rooms,” and sometimes onto rumpled beds, are his robust, often gritty, surfaces and the materials he adds, which multiply the tension of the image. As for that tension, he says, it may sometimes just be narrative. But the surface of the painting must also be activated. Using canvas stretched over plywood, he has a hard surface, onto which he can sand, cut, scrape, and add a photograph and cover it with glass. His interest in integrating photographs into his art has occurred over the last five years as he and his wife, Kathline Carr, work together on the photos.
Peters doesn’t use brushes, preferring spackle knives, palette knives, and his fingers; the surface of his work is robustly textured. He may also add a real object, as in Shrine of the Annunciation, into which he inset tomato paste cans to shape a lighthouse. That creates a tension between the three-dimensionality of the cans and the illusionistic three dimensions in the painting.
“When I start a piece I have no idea where it will go. I use no photos or preliminary drawings or models,” he says. The paintings are “evolutionary. I don’t work from a source. I work totally out of my head. Every day I go into the studio, I may have a different feeling. I may be happy, may be sad. There are a lot of different feelings.”
Peters doesn’t require a model to capture the accurate lines of a figure. “If you’ve been drawing figures for 40 years,” he says, “you can do it out of your mind. I enjoy working out of my head.” But he adds, all his figures are “basically [my wife] Kate, although they don’t always look like her.” The process, he adds, “is very fluid. Usually most of my paintings start with a female figure. But that particular pose is rarely in the painting at the end.” He may move the figure around, change it to a male figure, add another female figure. He thinks of the painting like a film, a motion picture. And, he adds, with excitement in his voice, “When it starts to gel, it’s like a freeze-frame.”
The oldest large piece will be Reclining Figure, Jealousy. The newest large piece will be the 2009 Whose Dream is This, an eight-by-10-foot painting. Sea Barn, which Peters calls, “the ultimate mixed-media piece,” includes a photograph and a sculpted figure.
“The painting is a dialogue between itself and me, and it shifts and alters according to my response to the emotions I feel or want to express, and the aesthetics that evolve out of the process,” he explains. Despite the changes in style and materials, Peters’ provocative images continue to capture the age-old tensions and dynamics between the sexes.
Debbie Forman is a freelance writer specializing in stories on art and the author of the recently published book, Cape Cod Artists: Images of Land and Sea.