Enter Kate Petley’s kaleidoscope of abstract photos at CU Art Museum – Boulder Daily Camera
The work of Longmont designer Kate Petley carries a certain mystery and palpable intrigue.
At first glance, the pieces from his solo exhibition “Staring Into the Fire” – on display at the CU Art Museum until December 18 – appear to be geometric paintings.
Upon closer examination, it becomes clear that his captivating work – filled with light and shadow – are in fact photographs.
Shots of painted cardboard boxes rendered on the hips take on a new depth when placed in Petley’s studio, exposed to various lighting.
Some images that have been transferred to canvas are then brushed with acrylic paint, adding a subtlety of texture to the fascinating, layered work that manages to merge multiple mediums.
Its varied summaries have a feel that is both futuristic and familiar. Sharp angles, rounded corners and slightly jagged arches lead us into a world where notions of depth and surface remain opaque.
The shape, line, pattern and perspective culminate in striking prisms that delight the eye.
“Anchor” is reminiscent of a geometric rose, in a way, possessing a palette of luminous purples.
Sometimes the work seems to be inspired by architecture, at other times the viewer can have the impression of being in a kaleidoscope, focused on a colorful and radiant slice.
From brightly colored offerings to those that lean toward the monochromatic side, Petley’s work transcends any particular mood or energy.
By taking something as ordinary as cardboard and making it a remarkable subject, his work reminds viewers of the power of transformation.
All the pieces are for sale and the museum is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday or by appointment.
We caught up with the New York-born designer to learn more about her latest exhibition, her process, and what she wants viewers to notice when they look at her varied creations.
Kalène McCort: What do you think inspired the pieces in “Staring into the Fire?” “
Kate Petley: I use light, color, shape and space to create atmospheric arrangements that refer to visual perception and physical experience. Part of my goal is to wonder what a luminous surface might mean now that the backlit screen has altered our vision with its dominant artificial glow.
KM: How did you choose this title for the collection?
KP: It’s a descriptive phrase that evokes the primordial feeling we all recognize of being literally hypnotized by a fire, drawn to its warmth and coziness.
There is also an opposite interpretation which involves looking into the flames of destruction. I wanted the title to act as bait, to invite curiosity. CUAM director Sandra Firmin, who organized the exhibit, uses the word “hypnotize” in her written comments and I love that description.
KM: I love that at first glance they look like abstract paintings, when they are in fact photographs. What is your process for creating these works?
KP: In general, my work combines sculpture, photography and painting in a way that incorporates both artisanal and digital approaches. All three are of equal importance and play different roles.
I started out in sculpture, so manipulating real materials is necessary for me. I basically do a sculptural arrangement from cardboard, paper or different films. It is placed in an intensely lit environment and photographed. The resulting photograph is transferred to canvas or paper. The canvases are selectively painted, but it is not always easy to detect what is paint and what is not. My process dissolves the boundaries between these mediums and this is important, not only to me but also to the work of many other artists.
KM: Do you have a vision of what you want to achieve before you set up cardboard subjects and take photos or is it all organically?
KP: It’s a slow process and I use a lot of different materials besides regular cardboard. Each stage has its own pace and its own requirements. Sometimes it seems extremely intuitive and I just move everything around until I find the right solution. If there is a preliminary idea, often it does not survive the experience because the many adjustments I make change the original impulse. I am not easily satisfied and the experimentation takes time. Hundreds of other photographs stand behind each piece that becomes an object.
Speaking of materials, I’d like to mention that the smaller room (at CU Art Museum) – normally used for video – contains an installation. At first it looks very different from the rest of the exhibit, but I thought it was important to include some of the materials I use. This installation offers a contrast with the other rooms and simultaneously connects to them in a surprising way.
KM: What do you hope viewers take away from your work?
KP: I would like them to notice what they feel, what sensations occur when they stand in front of the rooms. For example, some people are drawn to light and strong colors, while others will be comfortable with softer works. If possible, I would like the focus to be on what they are going through instead of unraveling the process.
The best part is noticing the sensations that might arise. It’s about the experience, always better in person.
KM: Are there any objects or materials that you would like to incorporate into your backlit photographic work in the future?
KP: Actual objects will not be included as they usually have too much history or narrative and this determines how we view them. I consider the light itself as a material and I use several light sources, I don’t just rely on backlighting arrangements.
During the isolation of the past 18 months, I was motivated to include drop shadows in the images and that continues to hold my attention. Focusing on the shadows required a new set of steps that I plan to pursue. It seems relevant.
KM: What can we expect from you next? Are there any upcoming exhibitions that should be on our radar?
KP: My work will be included in an exhibition at the Grinnell College Art Museum (in Iowa) titled “Digital Vision”, featuring six artists from the United States. Tom Moody.