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Michael Peterson
Traver Gallery, Seattle, Washington
Recommendation by Matthew Kangas

Michael Peterson, "Habitat V," 2019, carved, sandblasted, pigmented madrone and locust burl, 9 x 28 1/2 x 25"

Continuing through December 21, 2019

Michael Peterson’s turned-and-carved-wood sculptures are a fully realized aesthetic materialized from recycled found logs, branches and driftwood found on beaches in the San Juan Islands (where he lives). They are abstract images that carry symbolic meanings of fragility, animal and bird habitat, and the aftermaths of clear-cutting, sea pollution and indiscriminate littering. Staining, sanding, and sawing, the 67-year-old artist from Texas also uses pigments and Japanese sumi ink to rub into the distressed wooden surfaces. The results are a fantasy world of aged wood and preternaturally chromatic natural objects.

We peer down onto low-set plinths, as if encountering the works on a remote beach or behind boulders. When Peterson’s art was honored with a Bellevue Arts Museum retrospective exhibition in 2009, his stature within the American craft movement was well established. While the sensitive surface handling and rubbed, wood-grain sides will continue to appeal to those who appreciate his craftsmanship, the irregular compositions, asymmetric stacks and intriguing informality of assembly reflect his increasingly complex aesthetic sensibility.

Among the eleven works on view, half are wall-mounted and, though carefully treated by rubbing and color-staining, they feel blank and ordinary compared to the low-set free standing sculptures. The latter are more akin to topographical fragments, as in “Mountain” (2019) which is divided into a volcano-like depression and a raised, graduated adjacent area. More compositionally interesting than the wall pieces, the multiple-element sculptures introduce bird figures, nestled or hiding among the stacked sheets of wood or set among muffled gray mock-boulders. They read as found settings that suggest domiciles of safety and protection from an increasingly imperiled natural world.

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