Digital Photo Artist Peter Watson Paints with Light

Night Sun, Photography 30 x 40

With a little help from the viewers’ imagination, the allusiveness of abstract art can take an aural as well as visual turn. One early example is how the pioneering American modernist Arthur Dove magically combined forms and colors in his painting “Fog Horns” to evoke the mournful moans that haunted him on foggy nights in the yawl in which he lived and painted off the shore of the Long Island Sound. Another, more recent, example is “Patchinko Sound,” a work in Duratrans/Acrylic by the Australian-born digital photography artist Peter Watson.
    For in this luminous composition, with its swirls of glowing red, yellow and green dots against a black background, Watson manages not only to suggest the sound of metal balls clattering around in one of those Japanese gambling games, somewhere between a slot machine and a pinball machine, but also the blazing neon-lit atmosphere of Tokyo’s Ginza district, where many of the patchinko parlors are located.
    “Light is the perfect material for abstraction –– you can move it and paint with it,” Watson says, a sentiment with which Don Flavin and other artists who use neon and fluorescent tubing would most likely agree. And to explore its possibilities to their fullest effect, some of Watson’s larger pieces are exhibited in light boxes, which not only enhances their chromatic intensity but lends them a substantial sculptural presence.
    One such lightbox piece, the 48 by 72 inch  “Kiss,” is a bold composition in glowing lipstick pinks, Day-Glo oranges, vibrant blues, and sultry violet hues. The sheer heat of such colors creates a sensual optical sensation, informed by Watson’s years of experience working with color theory in color labs and his widespread travels in various urban settings. Just as the Impressionists found inspiration in sunlight and the natural chiaroscuro it casts on foliage and other aspects of the landscape, Watson is inspired by the artificial light with which contemporary humankind illuminates those beehives we call cities. 
    “I devote a lot of time and research to the location, subject matter, and execution of my photographs,” he says. “Colour and light influences my feelings of the environment that I am in.”
    These locations often have a very specific atmosphere and character, as seen in another large lightbox piece that Watson calls “Shimbashi Glow.” Shimbashi, which translates into English as “new bridge,” is a section of Tokyo convenient to railroad and subway stations, where white collar “salarymen” and their companions go to unwind after work in a nocturnal playground known for dimly lit bars and restaurants, as well as its lively red light district. All of this is evoked through the wispy floating smoke-like forms, suggestive of phantom figures and the slightly illicit pleasures fueled by alcohol that Watson evokes in “Shimbashi Glow.” Here, this dynamic contemporary computer artist gives us a new slant on the shadowy “Floating World” (i.e. “world of play and entertainment”) so often depicted  in Ukiyo-e prints of those long ago centuries when Tokyo was still called Edo.
    By contrast, another striking lightbox, “Lightfall,” suggests the more industrious side of the city, with its vertical blue forms calling up visions of the glass facades of soaring skyscrapers, while rhythmic rainbow waves of iridescent color in the lower part of the composition create the sensation of a veritable chromatic wave. 
–– Marie R. Pagano
Peter Watson, Agora Gallery, 530 W. 25th St.
June 10 - July 1, 2014.
 Reception: Thursday, June 12, 6 - 8pm

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