We wanted the hysteria to be over by now, but yet, weren’t we all afraid it was just the beginning? Recently, while watching a documentary on different political uprisings in and around 1933, I was struck by the acquiescence that led to an inevitable, yet  unfathomable dictatorial coup. More like a deadening shock, it rippled into Hysteria.

When we look at 2020, though, as Cleon Peterson surely has in his new solo show at Over the Influence Los Angeles, on view November 14 through December 27, 2020, we can feel the maddening pressure within our subconscious. Trapped inside or leaving the house,  andemic, politics, social media, social unrest, pandemic and politics pulsate through the veins. Hysteria is the inexorable title for this art show, and reflecting on the works that Cleon has made throughout his iconic career, it feels like an epiphany. Perhaps, most surprisingly, Cleon has made a completely new body of work that serves as a departure in both character development and color choices, leaving his deep reds behind for a more alarmingly deep and bold yellow, that most visible of colors, and often the most wretched. Associated with sickness and danger, it stakes its place in each work. 

“I feel like we’re living in a new medieval period,” Peterson says. “We have a plague, and folklore and mythology are influencing us more than rational thought.”

In past bodies of work, the Los Angeles-based Peterson was working through metaphors of abuse of power, and yet in recent years has taken a more direct look at our world. As OTI said so adeptly, “Peterson is an artist for America’s unfinest hour, his work – which might at first seem so caustic and extreme – serves as a quasi-realist mirror of our decline, and a sobering warning of what may lie ahead.” As our collective metaphors seemed to come to life in something so tangible as the Trump, Johnson and Putin years, Cleon’s point of the spear is effective and, once again,  a tantalizing example of the power of figurative art in times of democractic uncertainty.

“The show is an indictment of our fantasies and dreams,” Cleon tells Juxtapoz, “and how our fantasies and dreams can split us apart, tangle us up and make us forget our humanity.” —Evan Pricco