Sunday, August 21, 2011

REVIEW: Karen Peterson Retrospective at Chandler Gallery in Randolph

Alive and Rhythmic Bronze
The Karen Petersen Retrospective at Chandler

by Dian Parker

The current show at Chandler Gallery is a retrospective of Karen Petersen’s work, featuring primarily her bronze sculptures. Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin and expensive to cast, especially in the United States. Since the 1990's Petersen has been working in the foundries in Thailand and most recently in Shanghai. Her generous gift that now sits out front of Chandler was cast in China. It still seeks a title, so go into the gallery and submit your idea. The winning entry will be announced at the end of the show, on September 25.

The sculpture you see from the street has its maquette in the gallery, a tiny bronze replica of the big piece. This smaller piece has a shining, green and gold patina that virtually glows.

There are 38 works of art in Petersen’s show, and 12 of them are paintings. Her abstract paintings are large, 3 and 4 feet on the longest dimension, with swirling blasts of color. Even though the paintings don’t have the power and beauty of her bronze sculptures, they offer a colorful counterpoint on the walls. The show as a whole is lovely. When I first walked in, without any lights on, the sculptures scattered around on the floor felt animated and alive, twisted into shapes that at first aren’t discernable.

One of my favorites is Playing Figure, an earlier piece Petersen created in the early 80's. A woman lies on her side with her torso twisted. She has large, peasant feet, Gauguin-like. She is playful yet demure as she contorts herself. She remains serene and tranquil in her face, even though the rest of her body is in an impossible position. The sculpture is also reminiscent of Matisse’s The Dance.

Another gorgeous bronze is I’m Listening. A woman appears pregnant but on closer examination you see a bird spread out against her body. She seems to be holding the bird as its wings engulf her shoulders. Both the woman and the bird have their eyes closed. There is a powerful stillness in this piece, and so much love.

Kenya, a bronze gazelle, has sleek lines and tiny delicate hooves. Sunshine, a maquette of her bronze life-size deer, is proud and bold with its thick arched neck, standing on its spindly legs - a bright Bambi. Both are joyful, tender animals, alive and prancing.

Petersen has a series of Flower bronzes which are small and elegant. All of her bronzes are tactile, begging to be stroked. She has a fine sense of form that is strong, forceful and masterful. I’d love to see her return to the style of her earlier work, like Playing Figure, where there is movement and a playful exuberance.

There are two gallery talks where you can hear Karen Petersen speak about her work; August 23 and September 20, both at 7 pm. Here is an opportunity to ask questions and to learn more about the difficulties in working in bronze. It is an exacting process involving many hours of intensive labor.

She has also put together an impressive power point presentation which shows the step by step process involved in the making of her bronze gift to Chandler that now sits outside the building. There is, as well, a printed self-conducted walking tour of the exhibition that Petersen wrote. Both are available in the gallery and well worth taking the time to view and read.

All artists are a law unto themselves. Petersen’s sculptures are a dynamic testament to her commitment and passion. These bronze sculptures will exist for a long time; indestructible and elegant. May the artist do so as well.

This review was first published in the Randolph Herald on August 18, 2011

Images: Overview of Chandler Gallery, Playing Figure, Maquette