- ARTIST STATEMENT -
“ Since 1981, I've been creating art that stirs the emotions of the viewer. As I've grown as an artist, my work has become more of an expression of my soul. Images in nature, art, and new technology all influence me.
I'm especially intrigued by the moments in life that catch my eye, random ideas that erupt in my mind, and words people say that just hang in the air.
I'm constantly re-formulating the process of my creative thinking.
I'll observe something that strikes a chord with me, tuck it away in my mind, and later it becomes an inspiration to me. As a result, my art can be lighthearted and whimsical or deeply symbolic.
Imagination is the most powerful tool humans possess."
Born an only child in Southern California in 1958,
John spent many afternoons watching television shows and movies that portrayed perfect people, in perfect families, living in a perfect society. These shows would prove to have a profound impact on his career path. First, he pursued a career in the idealized world of advertising design, receiving a degree in Graphic Design from Mt. San Jacinto College, followed by a degree in Commercial Photography from Brooks Institute. Throughout the 80s and 90s he gained national recognition, winning numerous awards as a photographer.
During this time, any spare moment was dedicated to creating fine art, crafting art furniture and restoring vintage motorcycles. In 2003 John closed his photography studio to pursue his passion for sculpture. Since then he has created a diverse body of work, pieces of which can be found in both private and corporate collections; this work has also been shown in galleries and exhibitions worldwide.
" John Petrey’s sculpture is visually, conceptually, and materially provocative. His dress series—crafted from large quantities of recognizable, often “everyday” materials such as plastic spoons, poker chips, license plates, and wooden rulers—reflects his ability to bring disparate parts into a cohesive and powerful statement. While his work is serious, it is also imbued with the artist’s sense of humor and his willingness to be playful.
A background in commercial photography and graphic design, as well as time spent constructing stage sets, encouraged what could be described as a “sympathetic” eye for good form and content and a knack for knowing how to engage a viewer. Petrey draws on personal memories and reflections yet taps into topics of a more universal nature. As one example, clothing—whether wearable or not—is a familiar form. It denotes a body and that is something every human being can relate to— whether the kind of dress is recognized or not.
Like other contemporary artists who utilize clothing as iconography, Petrey recognizes the value of dress as a connective tissue, an innately human signifier. Not only does it correspond to cultural, social, political, and personal issues, it defines, protects, and “brands” the body. It is something we know and use. This makes it powerful—rich with layered, and variable, meaning.
Initially, Petrey drew on his childhood influences to reference a specific time period—the “happy days” of 1950s -1960s America, as articulated through television sitcoms. He symbolizes this moment through a classic fashion construct—the shirtwaist dress, with its defined waist and full skirt. Associated with fictional and real- life figures such as June Cleaver and Doris Day, this dress oozes femininity without being overtly sensual. Often paired with pearls and maybe a cardigan sweater (at least in images and on television), it suggests a “pulled together” housewife. It highlights a woman’s form without being too provocative. It is safe and the silhouette of a shirtwaist dress today evokes a kind of nostalgia. Petrey, who was absorbing the images and ideas floating in the air as a child, has recognized the power of the seemingly mundane scenarios and images presented through media. He states: “It didn’t matter what problem they had, it was solved in 30 minutes...the Vietnam War is going on, there’s a drug culture, but on TV, everything’s perfect.”
Petrey has translated his response to the “utopia” suggested by those influential factors into finely crafted sculptural forms that encapsulate a mood, as well as stand on their own as visual statements. While he has made both boy’s and men’s suits, these pieces tend to focus on feminine attire—the language of women’s dress offers myriad opportunities for the artist to connect to broader topics such as sentiment, memory, and social and cultural issues.
Crafted in three different sizes, to reflect the different stages of a woman’s life, Petrey’s garments require large numbers of materials to clothe the base structure made of resin, steel and fiberglass. To find the needed quantities of plastic serving ware, poker chips, yardsticks, miniature playing cards, bottle caps, and pressed tin (this is not even a definitive list), he needs to constantly search junk shops and flea markets, as well as take advantage of friends in the salvage business. Petrey shapes the re- purposed materials to imply folds and draping. As he has developed the series, he has also started to play with the metaphor of metal as armor. While he may emphasize style, color, and neckline as attractions (as many women would likewise keep in mind), he also pulls no punches regarding the nature of the metals he may be using and does not always disguise sharp edges and points. To Petrey’s thinking, this is the “Come notice me. Stay away!” conflict—the emotion and mindset of the wearer being reflected in their sartorial choices.
The scale of the piece does seem to dictate the style of clothing—with evening gowns, kimono, and Elizabethan dresses, as well as the shirtwaist style, being produced at the larger size. Interestingly, this reinforces an intangible relationship between style of dress and maturation. It makes sense to see a draping, firey-red evening gown at a large size as it corresponds to a full-fledged woman on a red carpet. However, since this is sculpture, not actual adornment, Petrey can also let his imagination soar— shifting proportions as construction warrants or as his imagination encourages. Varying styles reflect Petrey’s increased interest in fashion trends past and present, including, in his words: “everything from Japanese subculture street fashion to the high couture runways of NYC and Paris.” His presentation—as well as his choice of dress style and materials—evoke different characters, icons, or even, stereotypes. Without being specific and direct about it, he can use the language of the iconic to provoke feelings or responses in viewers.
The re-purposed materials act almost as talismans— reinforcing a subtext that will be as individual as each viewer. The materials themselves can evoke feelings, spur memories, and suggest the nostalgic. They also tend to read as familiar (as opposed to exotic)—this allows them to become memory-inducers and points of recognition.
In his artist statement, John Petrey states: “My art can be lighthearted and whimsical or deeply symbolic.” He has been approaching this rather effectively through the language of dress—offering sculpture that is full of meaning (and potentially, emotion) without being schmaltzy. Having his work in the gallery, or in a home, is like having old friends that you have not seen in a while come to visit—they are both new and familiar at the same time."
- Lena Vigna -
Curator of Exhibitions, Racine Art Museum
The larger pieces act as a vehicle to create “sky’s the limit” work. Petrey’s work ranges from historical to cutting-edge street fashion depicting fantasy, danger and allure—sometimes all in one piece.
This work is often a juxtaposion on the stereotypical belief that women use fashion to “lure” a mate, through the use of garments paradoxically layered as a “coat of armor.” The sensual side beckons one to “come close” while the protective side sends the message “stay away.” These larger-than-life figures can be imposing or intimidating—adding force to the message.
Although every piece is inspired by fashion, it is ultimately driven by materials.
“Discovering a material that I’ve never seen before can actually make the
hair on the back of my neck stand up as it sparks an idea in my mind. For instance, a material might be hard and rigid—meant for industrial purposes—I look beyond its intended use and re-purpose it in a new context.”
“The challenge for me is to determine if it’s possible to manipulate and transform that material into the sculpture I’m envisioning. My mind whirls through a list of stored ideas and questions: what feminine trait might the material reveal; will it flow like cloth; can it act as armor; what era does it represent, and ultimately, will it tell a story?”
- Resume -
1981 B.S. Degree – Commercial Photography, Brooks Institute of Photography, Santa Barbara, CA 1978 A.S. Degree – Graphic Design, Mt. San Jacinto College, San Jacinto, CA
2018 Art Palm Beach – AiBo Gallery – January 2018
2017 Art Palm Beach – AiBo Gallery – January
Affordable Art Fair/NYC – AiBo Gallery – April
The Arts Company – Nashville, TN – April
Boston International Art Fair – AiBo Gallery – October SOFA/Chicago – AiBoGallery – November Context/Miami – AiBo Gallery – December
2016 Sculpture Fields at Montague Park – Chattanooga, TN – “Failure to Communicate” Affordable Art Fair/NYC – AiBo Gallery – April
Context/NYC – AiBo Gallery – May
Art Hampton – AiBo Gallery – June
The Arts Company – Nashville, TN – March
Art & History Museums – Maitand, FL – Solo Museum Exhibition – October - December SOFA Chicago – AiBo Gallery – November
Art Miami – AiBo Gallery – December
2015 The Arts Company – Nashville, TN – April
Art Access Gallery – Columbus, OH – May
Canyon Road Contemporary – Santa Fe, NM – May
Weinberger Fine Art – Kansas City, MO – July
Marietta Cobb Museum of Art – Marietta, GA – September - December Charlotte Contemporary – Charlotte, NC – October
Galleria Misto – Belleair Bluffs, FL – November
2014 A Gallery Fine Art – Palm Desert , CA – January Weinberger Fine Art – Kansas City, MO – July The Russell Collection – Austin, TX – September Spectrum Exhibit – Miami Art Week – December
2013 Tennessee Valley Museum – Tuscumbia, AL, Solo Exhibition – March Miller Gallery – Cincinnati, OH – April
Canyon Road Contemporary – Santa Fe, NM – May
2012 WonderGround Gallery – Disneyland® Resort, CA, Princess Merida “Brave” Movie Femininity in Form – Weinberger Fine Art (Group Show), Kansas City, MO Canyon Road Contemporary Outdoor Sculpture Garden Exhibition – Santa Fe, NM
2011 Tennessee Governor’s Mansion – Nashville, TN
“To Wear or Not To Wear” – Racine Art Museum, Racine, WI, October 2011- February 2012 “Unruffled Views: The Dress as Symbol” – Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek, April – July
2010 Vitra Design Museum – Weil am Rhein, Germany – Hidden Heroes, August - September Art San Diego – San Diego, CA
FADA Los Angeles Art Show – Los Angeles, CA
Public Art Chattanooga 4th Biennial Exhibition – Chattanooga, TN “Articles of Dress” – Craft Alliance, St. Louis, MO
2009 Lois Lambert Gallery, Santa Monica, CA – Solo Exhibition, November 2009 - January 2010 Haven Gallery, Austin, TX – Solo Exhibition, November 14, 2009 – January 2010 Tennessee Arts Commission Gallery Exhibition, Nashville, TN – Solo Show, October Petrey Collection – Sak’s Fifth Avenue, Phipps Plaza, Atlanta, GA
Art Access Gallery, Columbus, OH – Paintings, Sculpture, Glass – April - May
2008 Art Basel Miami – Miami, FL
2007 Niche Magazine National Double Award Winner – Mixed Media and Recycled Materials
COMMISSIONS, GRANTS AND PUBLIC COLLECTIONS
2016 Sculpture Fields at Montague Park – Chattanooga, TN – “Failure to Communicate” 2012 BlueCross BlueShield of Iowa, Permanent Collection, Des Moines, IA
2011 City of Chattanooga, Permanent Collection, TN, “Blue Boy – Pull Toy #1”
2010 4th Biennial Sculpture Exhibit, Public Art Chattanooga, “Blue Boy – Pull Toy #1” 2009 State of Tennessee Permanent Collection, Nashville, TN, “Willow”
2009 Lyndhurst Foundation, CreateHere, MakeWork Grant recipient, Rhino Sculpture Project
2008 JANUS Corporation – Mobil Education Art Collection, Denver, CO, “Baby Vegas”
2008 City of Chattanooga Public Art Purchase, Permanent Collection, TN, “Party Dress”
2008 Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth, TX, Mixed Media Sculptures “Five Flying Dresses” 2005 University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor, MI, “Flying Dress”
SELECTED PRIVATE COLLECTIONS
The Edwin Hotel, Chattanooga, TN
Tennessee Governor’s Mansion
Mrs. Janet Ayers, Nashville, TN
Private Collection, St. Tropez, France
Mr. and Mrs. Donald Brock, Manhattan Beach, CA/Chattanooga, TN Ms. Susan Glazer-Burt, Des Moines, IA/La Quinta, CA
Mr. David Charak, St. Louis, MO
Mr. and Mrs. Johann Doppelhofer, Austria
Mr. and Mrs. Ezra Katz, Coral Gables, FL
Mr and Mrs. Barry Picov, Ajax, Ontario (Canada) Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Pass, St. Louis, MO/Naples, FL Mr. Amit Raizada, Kansas City, MO
Ms. Danielle Steel, San Francisco, CA
PRESS AND ARTICLES
Nashville Arts Magazine - May 2015
Vetta Magazine Austin, Texas - August, 2014
Tennessee Department of Tourism Website Article, February 2014 Chattanooga Times Free Press, Chattanooga, Tennessee, June 24, 2012
Textiel Plus – Alkmaar, Netherlands – May 2011
Times-Picayune, New Orleans – May 2011
The Houston Chronicle – March 26, 2011
Tennessee Crossroads – Nashville Public Television – YouTube Tennessee Crossroads John Petrey Chattanooga Heroic Drive, pages 94 and 194
Chattanooga Magazine – Cover and Feature Article – July 2010 WUTC-FM – Interview with Monessa Guilfol – 2010
WTCI – Promotion Spot – 2010
FOX 61 / WDSI – Television Spot - 2009
Interior Design – October 2009
Tribeza – November 2009
Blush Magazine – Feature Article – May 2009
City Scope Magazine – Summer 2009
American Style Magazine – June 2009
Craft’s Report – April 2009
American Style Magazine – Portfolio Feature Article – October 2008 Knoxville News – December 28, 2008
Raw Vision Magazine – Autumn/Fall 2008
Automobile Club of America – Journey – July/August 2008
In the City Magazine – Chattanooga Times – June 2008
The Chattanoogan – March 23, 2007
Minnesota Monthly – July 2007
Niche Magazine – Spring 2007
Orlando Leisure – 2005
American Craft Council
Americans for the Arts
International Sculpture Center
Midsouth Sculpture Alliance
Tennesseans for the Arts