Large grayscale abstract painting

Image credit: Kate Petley, American, b.1954, Over and Above, archival print and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 76 inches. Copyright and courtesy the artist.

Large yellow abstract painting

Image credit: Kate Petley, American, b.1954, Thrown Open, archival print and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 76 inches. Copyright and courtesy the artist. 

Kate Petley: Staring into the Fire
Fall 2021

Kate Petley’s image-making process is guided by a will to transform. Assemblages of cardboard, tape and other castaway materials are carefully placed into intensely lit arrangements and photographed. Images of recognizable patterns of corrugation and pitted surfaces undergo a startling shift when the photograph is transferred to larger canvases. Translucent and opaque forms, often architectural in nature or resembling geological outcroppings, float in front of or fold into horizonless fields of gradated reds, greens, indigos and violets. The overall flatness of the printed images contravenes their holographic appearance. To enhance their mystical opacity, Petley introduces hard-to-detect brushwork that draws attention to certain areas while concealing the image underneath. These brushed overlays of acrylic paint generate cognitive dissonance as the mind toggles between digital and material realms.

Petley harnesses physiological responses to color and light, inviting feelings of joy, quietude and wonder. These works on canvas belong to a long lineage of painters concerned with the luminous surface as a space for absorption, a space increasingly usurped by the ever-present backlit screen. Kate Petley: Staring into the Fire brings together a suite of new abstract works on canvas ranging in their depictions from airy thresholds, to steely-cold and muscular structures, to those verging on internal combustion. In this exhibition, Petley strives to counter contemporary viewing experiences shaped by technologies that have quickened looking. The suggestive title lays bare her motivation: to mesmerize.

This exhibition was curated by Sandra Q. Firmin.