Peter Paone opens “Creative Wellsprings” with Lecture

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Photos by Carolyn Whipple

To open his “Creative Wellsprings” exhibit in the List Gallery, artist Peter Paone presented a lecture in LPAC on October 2, tracing the evolution of his work over the course of his life and providing background regarding the pieces he is presenting on Swarthmore’s campus.

Though Paone’s work in the List is all two-dimensional acryllic painting and collage on Mylar and panel, his first show was sculptural and held when he was only eleven years old. Paone discussed some of his discovery of the power of paint both in his exploration of abstract expressionism and in his push away from the movement and towards more objective and figural work.

Also formative to his development as a painter was Paone’s study in Europe. He mentioned acquiring two books in a “Shakespeare & Company” bookstore in Paris which left a strong impression upon him: one leading to his development of glazed oil painting through a traditional Renaissance technique and the other entitled “How to Make Orange Crates Out of Old Furniture.”

His experiences in London in the 1960s also allowed him to develop painting techniques, working on small scale portraiture and studying the figures around him from famous Londoners like the Beatles to ordinary people, protesters and hippies, with whom he interacted. After returning to the U.S. and incorporating Native American elements in his work, he experienced a lull in which he reexamined his ideas and techniques.

That was when Paone had his revelation: “I found what I had been looking for all along. I found my imagination…. It was my greatest strength.”

From that point forward, Paone dedicated himself to working from the imagination. He clarified in the Question and Answer session that his methods incorporate working with photographs and objects though the total composition is developed in his mind. “I work from life,” Paone stressed.

In the past twenty-five years, Paone has focused on developing works in a series, which he explains as a form of storytelling. These series have covered topics from topiary to flea markets, the seasons to gamblers. The works presented in the List, though not complete series in themselves, include pieces from his work on musicians and in response to major human disasters, such as a piece inspired by 9/11 that depicts burning birds.

Also intriguing in his work in the List are the ways in which Paone has framed his pieces. The beautiful and unique frames are Paone’s own designs, though he acknowledged that the actual construction was not his own but the work of a cabinet maker colleague. Paone observed his distress during the Q&A that many wonderful museum pieces are poorly framed.

Paone is quick to point out that his work is not meant to respond to art history or theory or to the art market. He similarly rejects ‘style,’ fighting the suggestion that his work could be labeled surrealist or magic realist. Paone is well aware of the concerns of his critics. In response to the criticism that his work is inconsistent he insists that in this way he is consistent.

Fittingly, Paone closed his lecture with the observation: “I have spent my life keeping my demons away from the angels.”

The exhibit will remain in the List through November 2 and gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 12-5pm.