Surface Readings: Peter Shear at Big Medium

Spend some time with Peter Shear (NAP #107), whose mostly small-scale gestural abstractions invite close up viewings. But check yourself: the allure of Casting, Shear's array of colorful, mixed-media compositions — so simple in a sidelong browse yet curiously addictive, like Candy Crush on canvas — and his debut solo exhibition at Big Medium in Austin, may charm you longer than you expected. — Brian Fee, Austin contributor

Peter Shear |
Hold, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Big Medium, Austin.

Gesture and scale resound in Casting, though the latter is deceptive when viewing only promotional materials like a reproduced Hold. This mottled pink-pastel composition, with a few graphic symbols (teal broken line, reddish right angle) in bolder hues, is about the size of Heavy Metal magazine (or Rolling Stone prior to the redesign). In other words, hand-held and personal — though not exactly 'intimate' nor 'quiet', for this smaller size (and the generous amount of wall-space between canvases) engages the eye, draws us up close. In one instance, two works hanging side by side: Sign (potentially the most minimal in the show, a series of pencil lines on bare white canvas) and Date act as a visual diptych, the former's clean diagonals echoed as murky chemical smears, nighttime urbanity congealed into acrylic. Shear's in good company with abstract artists scaling down without eschewing impact: Tomma Abts and Andrew Masullo with their kinetic color technique, Bianca Beck and Ryan McLaughlin for their fluidic textures and structuring.

Peter Shear Casting, installation view.
Left: Sign, 2014, pencil on canvas, 10 x 8 inches. Right: Date, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Big Medium, Austin.

Peter Shear Casting, installation view.
Left: Catalano, 2014, spray paint and glitter on canvas, 12 x 10 inches. Right: Autocorrect, 2014, spray paint on raw canvas, 4 x 3 feet. Image courtesy the artist and Big Medium, Austin.

Shear's two instances of larger canvases feel massive in this company, and while the titular painting's hail of aerosol'd black headlights lunges at the viewer with overt aggression (which, to me, would feel far less pronounced if rendered in a smaller scale), Autocorrect in the back gallery works sublimely...but precisely because much of that canvas is untouched by any media. Upon this temperfoam-like expanse of raw backdrop, Shear unloaded a chorus of test sprays straight from their respective aerosol cans, whipping a fundamental yet alluring rainbow calligraphy. Autocorrect reflects the ghost of Shear's gestures, emitting media without physically touching the surface. During a walkthrough the show, he mentioned AbEx greats Franz Kline (brushy, hands-on) and Jackson Pollock (drizzly, hands-off) practically in the same breath — and elements of both recur here, like the wide-brush action on Date, and substitute dripped paint for spray-paint like in Autocorrect, two ways of recording the artist's 'hand' and progress.

(detail). Image courtesy the artist and Big Medium, Austin.

Peter Shear | Autocorrect (detail). Image courtesy the artist and Big Medium, Austin.

Snozzberries, however, combines the two with immediacy: Shear applied soft-contoured traffic-light tones with a spray-can, brushed on a sealant and used his hands to wipe the gritty medium across the canvas. It embodies among the most refreshing doses of playful exuberance in the show, reinforced by its Willy Wonka title. Shear admitted that, though he generally leaves his paintings untitled (or “indexed them, so that they do not assert themselves on the viewing experience”), his interest in poetics encouraged him to try for “24 solid gold titles”, while allowing the potential for some canvases to remain unnamed. As such, Snozzberries probably elicits a strong nostalgia for us not-young viewers, as much as its sugary shapes channel the fantastical candy-man.

Peter Shear | Snozzberries, 2014, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 18 x 24 inches.
Image courtesy the artist and Big Medium, Austin.

Peter Shear Casting, installation view.

Left: Pattern, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8 inches. Right: Paw, 2014, oil and spray paint on canvas, 10 x 8 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Big Medium, Austin.

Despite the presence of 24 paintings in Casting, the works' overall smaller scale prevents the experience from being visual overload (unlike diving into a Josh Smith show, though I do enjoy that acute ocular stimulation). Aurora, a succession of frothy spray-painted waves, is one of the largest canvases here, but in positioning it in a high alcove, it visually reduces to approximately the same scale as the tabloid-sized paintings. Big Medium's longest wall holds a succession of what Shear referred to as 'Heads', including Hold and the saturated mask-like Untitled (Head), along with a fat L-shaped piece of loose canvas Untitled (Letters of Transport) hung high on the wall. Upon it floats a rainbow of bright letters, red and green P's, orange and blue Q's, written in spray-paint. Yet despite the media's expected haziness (particularly when executed from a nozzle), it looks downright crisp when viewed in concert with Paw, a similarly colorful composition across the gallery in the entryway. Capturing both works in my peripheral vision, with Paw's sandy, built-up surface degrading green P-like and orange Q-like forms into melted vestiges, while simultaneously reaffirming Untitled (Letters of Transport) unlikely legibility, I found myself 'writing' my own experience of Shear's installation, beyond the works' titles, and beyond necessarily the artist's intent. To me, that is evidence enough that there is something sustaining in Shear's narrative, and his deserved role in gestural abstraction. When works ping off one another like neural synapses, forming connections and eliciting reactions on a personal level, it works. For that there is no size requirement.

Peter Shear Casting, installation view.

Left: Fortune Telling, 2013, acrylic, gel medium, and penny on canvas, 10 x 8 inches. Center: Out of the Past, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8 inches. Right: Untitled (Letters of Transport), 2014, spray paint on loose canvas, 16 x 13 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Big Medium, Austin.

Peter Shear | Fake French, 2014, spray paint on canvas, 14 x 11 inches.
Image courtesy the artist and Big Medium, Austin.


Peter Shear’s work has been shown in galleries nationally and internationally. Casting is his first exhibition in Texas. His work has appeared in New American Paintings, L Magazine, and Whitehot Magazine. His blog is an exceptional and widely-viewed survey of art, which he views as ‘an extension of the work and perhaps helpful to understanding the larger project’. He will be in Brooklyn at the end of May to participate in Bushwick Open Studios, curating two projects and exhibiting with a third. Shear was born in Beverly Farms, MA in 1980 and currently lives and works in Bloomington, IN. Casting at Big Medium continues through June 14.

Brian Fee is an art punk based currently in Austin, TX, but he can usually be found in New York, Tokyo, or Berlin, depending on the art season.


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