Roland Petersen: 1961

November 18, 2019 - January 31, 2020
San Francisco, CA


Roland Petersen: 1961 is an online exhibition pulling across the Heather James Fine Art galleries to present works by renowned Bay Area Figurative artist, Roland Petersen from the year 1961. 1961 represents a pivotal and groundbreaking year for Petersen, in which his famed Picnic series emerges and in which he created his most dynamic and impactful paintings. For many, 1961 is the year in which Petersen produced his best paintings.

Roland Petersen was born in 1926 and received his B.A. and M.A. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1949 and 1950. He would then study under Hans Hoffman in New York and Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17 in Paris. Returning to California, Petersen would move away from the dominance of abstract expressionism into figuration, joining the ranks of David Park, Elmer Bischoff, William Theophilus Brown, and Paul Wonner. The Bay Area Figurative movement was a counter to the abstraction dominating post-war New York City.

From 1961, the theme of picnics became central to Petersen. In settling on this subject, Petersen was able to showcase his skill with not just color and paint but also composition. In each of the paintings, there is a thoughtful and meticulous arrangement of figures around a table and nestled within the landscape. So, too, are there intense diagonals that cut across the painting, emphasized with both planes of color and thick paint. In Girl with Trees the landscape zigs and zags with rich color while Luncheon is a careful study of alignment with dozens of figures surrounding a table. Moreover, these early picnic paintings contain spatial depth, further separating Petersen from his Bay Area compatriots who specialized in figures against shallow fields.

Petersen’s picnic series, particularly these early ones from 1961, show a deep understanding of art history in their relationship to the geometric planes of color of Post-Impressionists like Paul Cezanne. Petersen creates a symphony of color and hues in Picnic in Yellow, also suggesting a dialogue with the Fauvists and their outrageous use of color. But, far from cold examinations into configuration and color, Petersen maximizes the ability of oil paint by creating mounds of impasto which creates depth and warmth via texture in the picnic series paintings of 1961. This daring use of impasto would soon cease by the early 1970s as Petersen would switch to acrylic paint due to his allergy to oil paints.

In what could have been simple bucolic paintings, Petersen transforms these first picnic paintings of 1961 into dazzling explorations of medium, structure, color, and light.

“The picnic seemed to be the best excuse to bring the still life, the figure, and the landscape together.” – Roland Petersen