OMA fall exhibitions offer personal takes on American iconography

‘David Rathman: Stand by Your Accidents’ and ‘Lamar Peterson: Suburbia Sublime’


through Jan. 4, 2015 | Orlando Museum of Art, 2416 N. Mills Ave. | 407-896-4231 | | $8

This fall, Orlando Museum of Art presents two solo exhibitions by emerging contemporary artists David Rathman and Lamar Peterson. Both shows come to Orlando from the Rochester Art Center in Rochester, Minnesota.

David Rathman’s Stand by Your Accidents covers his production during the last two decades, featuring watercolors and ink-on-paper renderings, the artist’s prime media for the past 15 years. Rathman depicts the romantic vision of the Wild West that he experienced growing up in Montana in the 1960s, and through movies of the same period – he was especially fascinated by Clint Eastwood.

The artist has found success in Los Angeles and New York with his large watercolors of cowboy scenes and hazy mountain horizons. Unlike Richard Prince and his re-photographs of cowboys figuratively descending from cigarette adverts, Rathman refrains from a critique of the West’s marketing potential. Instead, he creates his own very personal, nostalgic account of these scenes.

In another series he features the piled-up bodies of cars and trucks, military helicopters and tanks, rendered with delicate layers of browns, blues and sepia tones. These objects are often placed into a receding white background whose horizon line is always prominent. In these works, Rathman gives a nod to Ed Ruscha, right up to Ruscha’s Psycho Spaghetti Westerns (Gagosian Gallery, 2011), both in his composition and in his repurposing of the iconic tropes of the “West.”

Rathman often inscribes short texts along the top of his drawings, sometimes borrowed from old pop-song lyrics and movie titles. Similar to Raymond Pettibon, he combines a masterly draftsmanship with disruptive texts. Unlike Pettibon’s texts, however, they do not have an independent life, and sometimes seem arbitrarily chosen with the intent of forcing a double reading onto his images.

The title Stand by Your Accidents is an appropriate reflection of the unpredictable nature of the watercolor medium Rathman deploys – it is the working process of any artist, taking risks and embracing the results.

Lamar Peterson also celebrates the world of popular culture. His Suburbia Sublime is a darkly comic world, filled with shiny edible colors and Southern Gothic imagery.

Peterson draws from the style of comic books and school bulletin boards, but deals with “serious” subjects that include the artist’s childhood memories of growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida, and natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. In “Untitled” (2008), a crowd of naked figures flee orange floodwaters to climb a bright pink tree, an obvious reference to the destruction caused by the 2004 tsunami in Haiti.

Peterson uses scraps from his studio space – staples, stickers and colored paper – to create collages that deconstruct the male face in a way reminiscent of the Cubists. The work is pseudo-amateurish, using vivid colors that borrow from the well-known Highwaymen movement in Florida. Lamar himself cites the French surrealists, German Expressionists and “dynamic Cubist” Jacob Lawrence as his inspirations.

Now teaching at the University of Minnesota, Peterson lived in Brooklyn until 2011, where he was part of the vibrant NYC community of African-American artists. Still in his mid-30s, he is representative of a generation that includes Alexandria Smith and Derrick Adams.

This dual exhibition is a refreshing departure in OMA programming, showcasing the work of immensely talented contemporary artists who are never at a loss for irony, humor or social critique.