This survey show evinces Peters' source in abstract expressionism, especially in the metamorphosis that America's predominant mid-century art movement underwent early in the 1960s. As of 1962 Peters was still building paintings out of gestural accumulations; by the next year the formal language that would inform his mature work was asserting itself. The eccentric – partly organic, partly geometric, partly calligraphic, partly cartoonish – lines and shapes that comprise Peters's work of the past quarter century (or at least provide its armature) can already be seen articulating as loosely drawn icons, contours, and notations. As of the mid-1980s Peters was passing through a phase in which diagrammatic marks score what are otherwise highly painterly areas and drawing elements activate large planar swaths of paint. (By "large swaths" is meant both proportionally broad areas, occupying the bulk of any picture, and broad physical expanses, dominating very large paintings.)Ambitious if formulaic, these open, horizontal panels return Peters to his youthful appreciation of the gesture – an appreciation he fully harnessed by about 1988, when mind and method quickly clicked into place. At this point Peters was making his way towards a new, more confident, entirely self-sustaining look, a look at least as hard to emulate as it is to identify.
Since then, Peters has accumulated one of the most curious and startling bodies of work in contemporary painting. Characterized by a rich, varied, and eccentric array of forms interacting in a manner somehow both fluid and monumental – a manner that hovers between architecture and choreography – Peters's approach to painting straddles the material and the pictorial, delights in sensuous skin and color relationships at once dissonant and delicious, and combines the decorative and the narrative without telling stories or striving for retinal gratification. Such painting evades classification with a chameleon's elusiveness, implicitly taunting those who would try to entrap it.
The joke is on those who need their art tidily labeled. Consistent as his painting may have been over the last three decades, Sammy Peters makes unfixable, unlabelable paintings. While they bear a certain familial resemblance in their idiosyncratic line and maximalist composition to various anti-formalist tendencies in America (Chicago Imagism, California Funk, Delta expressionism), they cannot be associated definitively with any art movement. Product of a geographic and cultural milieu relatively inimical to what he does, Peters is one of those inexplicable originals who fills a stylistic gap we didn't know was there. He doesn't simply fall between styles, he threatens to upend our notion of artistic style altogether. Such heterogeneity can madden tidy minds, but it can delight open eyes – especially given the permission it gives both Peters and his audience to allow for exceptions, cultivate eclecticism, connect disparate passages to one another, and generally have a good time being serious about painting. Peters doesn't simply paint, after all, he investigates and conflates the myriad conditions of painting – and takes our eyes with him on his wild ride, heading off, as they say, in all directions. This is the kind of painting that keeps painting alive and viable, the art market and the Internet be damned.