Interview: Joshua PetkerJuxtapoz // Thursday, 09 Aug 2007
Written by Jolene Torr
"I can't figure out if I want to be a college professor or the poetic town drunk. So I'm a painter," says Joshua Petker. He's living the life of a modern day Toulouse-Lautrec, a bit of street with a bit of fine art charged by the beauty of alcohol and the intoxicating power of beauty. His themes are classical, modernized of course, where the archetypal femme fatale is awash in mythos, in bright, fresh colors buzzing and humming with vibrancy.
"When I close my eyes and think about Hollywood, I think of incredible neons," says the twenty-eight-year-old L.A. artist. "I think of how life can be wonderful and full of happiness for some and around the corner—bloody, unfair, and destitute for others. I try to use the most extreme and saturated colors I can find in hopes that they also appear to be so toxically sugar-coated that your stomach hurts." When you look at Petker's coquettish subjects, you notice there are no landscapes, just the subjects at the foreground and flat bands of pink and reds, the boldest hues, as backdrop. This is his approach to allegory. "The girls are breathing 2007. So pink that you want to punch someone. I want them to be extremely elegant but wear and air of snobbery... or some other gross, modern sentiment based on class."
It makes sense that Petker's intends to point out discrepancies between class and wealth. His art background is in graffiti writing. He has a degree in social science. Go figure: his work documents almost the same story that artists of the 19th century were telling. Perhaps it's history repeating itself; after all, he did go to school to be a historian.
Growing up in California as a graffiti artist, Petker attributes his penchant for bright colors to the L.A. graffiti scene. "Los Angeles in particular is known for having a very colorful graffiti style." He started writing at 15 and focused only on graffiti until he was 23, when he took off for Italy, where he lived under the pretext of studying art and Italian. "I honestly went to Italy to write graffiti. I rarely went to class and basically was there to hang out with the Piars Crew and to paint Italian subway cars." But Florence stirred him with its dense history and amazing museums. "Walking around in Florence inspired me to see the artists of the Renaissance as real people and not archaic textbook nonsense. I credit my time in Italy with pushing me into art as a full-time gig."
"Ophelia" One of two paintings that will be showing this weekend at the Corey Helford Gallery until September 5
Other than his one drawing class in Italy and an art history class in college, Petker has primarily taught himself how to paint by studying the masterful works of whom else but Gustav Klimt? "I imitated his work at first until I knew how to draw on my own." Out of admiration for Klimt, Petker recognized the power of female beauty and sexuality. "I have always been very conscious of beauty, and I hope, if nothing else, my work can be described as beautiful." Part of Petker's philosophy is mankind's affinity for beauty, how we strive for it. "I found what I consider to be an absolute truth: that life at its bare minimum is an attempt at living beautifully or acquiring works of beauty. That's where my paintings come into play hopefully. Additionally, to me at least, women's faces offer such a wisdom in art. Women are the vehicle of life, and when a new life has been created, it signifies an end of the mother's life. So women's faces also have so much death in them in art.