Sammy Peters: Works on Paper and Canvas

Sammy Peters is one of the most important artists living and working in Arkansas today. The Arts Center is proud to honor him with a solo exhibition and present his work to the public.

His painting, grounded in abstract expressionism, the avant-garde style of his adolescence, has evolved into a deeply felt dialogue of integrity and experimentation. The paintings are moody and emotional, expressed with muted colors, strong brushwork, accident, collage elements and a fiercely-wrought, beautiful finish.

While occasionally a horizon line emerges from the work, hinting at a landscape or interior, most often differentiations are made with broad passages of muted color laid over and next to other closely toned areas. This additive process is alternated with radical scrapings down to lower layers of paint or streaks of primary color. This ritual is continued, sometimes for months at a time, resulting in an accumulation of numerous layers of paint and a loose grid structure. The broad expanse of canvas is contained by the pressure of a very tight frame and a masterly surface derived from mixing beeswax with the pigments.

The lack of recognizable imagery situates the work in the subjective inner world of intuition and instinct. The paintings become mindscapes of gently advancing and receding thought forms punctuated by involuntary eruptions.
Somewhat of a loner, Sammy has nurtured his development and stylistic forms from inner necessity. While keeping current with contemporary artistic practice and developments, he has nonetheless forged and maintained an individual style and vocabulary resistant to the external pressures of the contemporary art world.

Sammy has been indelibly shaped by Little Rock experiences. He was brought up in an environment where art was practiced, respected and encouraged. His father, Sam Peters, Jr., is an amateur artist and professional sign-maker. His business, Ace Signs, established just after the family moved to Little Rock in 1944, exposed Sammy to the methods, materials and techniques of the trade.

At Little Rock's Central High School, Sammy studied under the dedicated art teacher Helen Terry Marshall, who exposed him and his classmates to avant-garde painting. Ms. Marshall showed movies, passed around art magazines and discussed abstract expressionism and jazz. Sammy felt an immediate sympathy with the style and its motivations and means.

Graduating from Central in 1958, the year of the integration crisis, Sammy enrolled at Little Rock University, now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where his mentor was Little Rock artist Edwin Brewer. After a year, Sammy went on to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (1959-60) where he took courses in art history and design, and then returned to Little Rock University for two years. It was during this period in 1962, that in the company of his father, Sammy made his first trip to New York. He saw Picasso's Guernica, Pollocks, de Koonings and works by Lee Bontecou at the Museum of Modern Art. Ad Reinhardt's black paintings made a lasting impression: he was impelled by the length of time it took for the eyes to adjust to the lowered light and see the paintings; and has long been driven by the power and effect of the subdued matte finish.

1962 was also the year his work was first accepted into the Arts Center's annual Delta, a competitive exhibition open to artists in the region. Nosegay with Kohlrabi was juried into the exhibition by Richard Diebenkorn, an artist temperamentally sympathetic to Sammy's developing abstract expressionist style.

Spurred on by these accomplishments, Sammy continued painting. In 1964, on scholarship, he studied drama at the Art Center's School of Art and Drama, and that year, R is 17 became his second work to appear in the Delta. In 1965, Sammy spent a year in California, painting and working with the San Francisco Mime Troupe designing sets and directing. He returned to Little Rock in time to have The Name's Not appear in the 1966 Delta. The following year 1967, Cinzano entered the Arts Center's permanent collection as winner of the purchase prize at the 10th Delta.

Sammy's career has since blossomed with other competitive exhibition awards, solo exhibitions in Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston galleries, and the Mid-America Arts Alliance/NEA Fellowship in 1992. More recently, Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York has been exhibiting his work.

We are pleased to have Sammy as a member of our art community, and salute his talent, dedication and achievements.

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Townsend Wolfe was Director and Chief Curator of the Arkansas Arts Center from 1968 till he retired in 2002.
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Ruth Pasquine was previously curator at the Arkansas Arts Center and is now a full time painter.