Gugger Petter: “Quattrocento & La Strada”
October 11 - November 18, 2018
- Opening reception: Thursday October 11 from 5 to 7pm with Petter in attendance
1743 Wazee Street, Suite 150
Denver, CO 80202
Tuesday - Saturday: 11am - 6pm
The earliest known portraiture featured the subject in profile on medals and coinage. The profile portrait is thought to have begun in the early 1400s, predominantly of men, symbolizing social status, success, and prestige. Female portraits, created as commemorative works of betrothal, marriage, or death, idealized not only wealth but also beauty. Quattrocento means four hundred and is an abbreviation for millequattrocento, Italian for fourteen hundred, which refers to the artistic and architectural activities of the fifteenth century. It is believed that the Italian three-quarter female portrait started with Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Ginevra De’Benci (1474-1478), when he broke with the traditional profile view. This turning point signaled the recognition and expression of the female sitter’s emotion, personality, and individual identity. His later portraits feature female subjects directly looking at the viewer, a revolutionary change in portraiture as previously only courtesans or prostitutes could be shown directly engaging with the viewer. Da Vinci notably described the eye as the window of the soul. By the 16th century, frontal views of sitters became common.
Petter pulls inspiration from these early female portraits with a contemporary bent. Her figures gaze directly back at the viewer, becoming less an object to be looked at and more a subject to be interacted with. The portraits continue Petter’s interest, first sparked in the 1970s when she lived in Italy as a young artist, with Renaissance art, Byzantine icons, and the early Christian church. While inspired by art history, Petter creates portraits from her imagination. She says these fictional portraits “could be anybody.” She sees the anonymity of the works as essential in creating both familiarity and distance between the subject and the viewer.
In these works, she aims to capture and express both the essence and presence of a person. Strada in Italian translates to street. Her street scenes take a below-the-knees perspective that allow viewers to imagine a larger narrative. Petter provides key clues based on her figures’ foot positions to the larger context of the scene outside what the work itself depicts. Seemingly innocuous, Petter’s street scenes highlight bodies in subtle conflict through a play of power dynamics and body language. She says, “Foot position is important but often gets ignored.” Petter’s earlier city scenes paid homage to the numerous stray dogs that roamed the streets of Mexico. She has since developed this series of work to highlight the tensions between people, especially between men and women. She says that, as a woman, living in a male-dominated society one may often feel like bait. These scenes expertly depict this experience with nuance. Each piece in the exhibition, created using Petter’s iconic woven newspaper technique, features a woman whether in portrait or in a street scene created over the course of the past year.
Since 1986 when she arrived in California where she still lives, Petter has used newspaper as her primary medium. She invented her own weaving technique using tubes of rolled newspaper to produce the wall pieces she is known for today. “I have always been inspired by challenge,” says Gugger, “so when I decided to work with newspaper, it was, in fact, due to the limitations/difficulty this material presented - both in regard to color palette and fragility.” The use of newspaper as a material holds important significance to each work. Petter says, “Since each work I create holds all the world/local news of that particular time frame, it becomes an historic piece within itself. All artists date their oeuvre with great importance - reflecting their moment in time. My works not only hold a date, they also represent an historic documentation of our time… each piece becomes a diary.” Petter saves the newspapers she has delivered to her home and, if needed, supplements her stockpile from an avid newspaper-reading friend.
From afar, Petter’s work appears painterly as if created with impasto. Yet as the distance between the viewer and the work collapses, the piece takes on a mosaic, refracted quality as it reveals its material reality. What at first appear to be thick brushstrokes turn out to be small knots, turns, and twists of paper. The tension within the weavings themselves - the medium, surface, subject matter, color, and form - creates contradictory yet simultaneous binaries such as fragile/strong, abstract/realistic, historic/contemporary, male/female, subject/object, dark/light, positive/negative, foreground/background. This multifaceted tension drives both the content and process of Petter’s work.
Highly collected worldwide, Petter’s work can be found in numerous permanent collections such as Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and at Frederiksborg Castle (The Museum of National History), Denmark. Petter’s Dog Barking at Two Women is currently on view through May 29, 2019 at the Denver Art Museum as part of the cross-departmental exhibition Stampede: Animals in Art. She has previously been commissioned to create portraits of President Bill Clinton for the Washington, D.C. Danish Embassy and President Barack Obama for his 2008 campaign headquarters