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“Overhead” a glimpse into Kate Petley’s wonderland

Since moving from Houston to Colorado twelve years ago, Kate Petley has explored the searing white light of the high elevation Rocky Mountains and how it influences our perception of the landscape. Using a complicated method of film and collage with resin on acrylic panels she created juicy, flat screens that played with light reflecting and casting images of images of images, somewhat like a house of mirrors.

However, Petley found that people were more interested in her technique than in exploring the meaning of the work. In a significant departure in method from previous work, Petley is now creating images on opaque panel surfaces. But there is little departure from practice. Petley is still exploring light, landscape, reflection only this time shes added a human element. Graffiti.

These new panels are not paintings and Petley is not a painter. They are collage-based constructions and she continues to use film as a primary medium of expression. In much the way that collage artists like Robert Rauschenberg began using prints of magazine images, Petley is using photographs of graffiti from around the world in isolated fragments and sources. The fragmentation of these sources speaks to how we read the visually oriented world. The graffiti is stripped of its original meaning and negative associations.

There is a consciousness to the appropriation beyond color, outline, graphic quality, and dynamic composition. Petley cuts, traces, and scales up the isolated elements and in this work the viewer is aware of each decision that goes into the work as each move is made visible. Each layer is evidenced.

For Petley, there is a present and ongoing interest in creating art that has the potential to elevate a mundane and physical existence into something more erudite. The objects are not about graffiti and the graffiti itself is subtly referenced in the art. There is a deeper intention to this work, an exploration of abstraction that is neither decorative nor referential; neither expressionistic referencing landscape or figure.

Petleys art has always bounced off the landscape, but never been directly about the landscape. Less than a year ago, she left the small mountain town where she lived and worked and is now based near Denver. Her new work evidences imagery rebounding from man-made graffiti in an urban landscape, reverberating organic shapes and titles that reference the land. The imagery is strong in color and design like decorative art, but deeper in purpose and meaning.

For me, this is Petleys strongest work to date and I look forward to seeing where this new exploration takes her. Shes no longer fighting the landscape elements in her art and shes making her process evident while still playing with light and layers and reflections.

“I use my environment as a way of getting you into the rabbit hole. Its not a direct influence, but I incorporate the subtleties of it,” Petley once said to me.

The work in “Overhead” is less subtle. The graffiti provides access to the rabbit hole and viewers are finally getting a real glimpse of the Petley wonderland.

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