Art for Pete's Sake

Peter Petrisko is back from the dead. Literally. After a near-death experience a decade ago, the onetime wunderkind of Phoenix's underground arts scene vanished without a trace. Five years before, Petrisko had made a name for himself by ravaging a yucca plant on East Van Buren on which the Virgin of Guadalupe had appeared -- an act designed to bring performance art to downtown Phoenix.

He's recently resurfaced with a popular Internet Web log (or "blog") called The World According to Pete, a series of coffee-house readings, and (in partnership with artist Jake Martinez) a new art space called Crisis Gallery, which opens this week. But Peter pines for the good old days, when downtown art was a grungy, punk-influenced scene peopled with outsiders with an ax to grind, and not the clean, well-lighted meat market he's afraid it's become.

New Times: So, you're back. Tell me about The World According to Pete.

Peter Petrisko: I started it mostly out of boredom. I needed someplace to write things down. I get an idea, and all these words will form around it, and I have to get the words out. I don't want my head to explode. I figured a blog would be a good way to prevent that.

NT: What's the whole blogging thing about? Are bloggers just people who are too cool to be published?

Petrisko: Bloggers are mostly people with a lot of time on their hands. Blogging started out as mostly personal journals posted as Web sites, but now there are a lot of political blogs, by people who want to stick it to the system. Some bloggers are wanna-be writers who are working up to being published, and a couple of them have even gotten book deals.

NT: I read on your Web log that you wrote a porn story from the perspective of a woman.

Petrisko: Yes. It's called "My Name Is Pete and I'm a Proud Slut." I wrote it to blow off steam, and I had it published at, and I got about 50 responses. The guys who wrote were pretty crude and obnoxious. It was like, "Thanks, man, for telling me how many times you whacked off to this story, and how hard you got." The women were much cooler. They wrote, like, "I read your story and you can guess where my hand was." It gave me a new perspective on where women are coming from and what they have to deal with every day. To your women readers, I want to say, on behalf of men, I'm so very sorry. Men are crude and awful, and thank you for putting up with us and sometimes having sex with us.

NT: What happened to you? You sort of vanished from the arts scene.

Petrisko: I died. I got this crazy idea in my head to try heroin, and I ended up overdosing. I was literally dead for three or four minutes. I came to and I was no longer in my body. I was in this dark place that was surrounded by love and compassion. I was in the presence of God. So I said to God, "Hey, G. What up, dog?" And he looked upon me, and the Lord said unto me, "Hey, pal. Don't get too close." Then he told me that our purpose here on Earth is to learn to love and to discover the love of learning, whether that be book learning, street smarts, whatever. And then it was my time to come back.

NT: What? What are you talking about?

Petrisko: I know it sounds weird, but it happened.

NT: I wanted to talk about the downtown arts scene.

Petrisko: I know.

NT: Uh, where were you when you died?

Petrisko: When I OD'd, I was with friends at someone's house. When I woke up, I was outside. I found out later that one of them heard my death rattle, realized something was wrong, and tried to do CPR on me. They couldn't bring me back, so they dragged me through the window because, you know, no one wants a dead body in their house, right? They dumped me in the neighbor's yard and called 911.

NT: These were your friends?

Petrisko: I tell you, when you use drugs, you get thrown out like the garbage.

NT: Clearly. So what does God look like?

Petrisko: He's just a presence. He just is. And after I saw him, it took me about seven years to assimilate my near-death experience. During that period, I did a lot of self-medicating. But then I got into a program -- I can't mention which one -- and I got clean. But I came back to life with new abilities. I can see dead people now. I can't control it. Every once in a while, a dead person just comes walking through the door. I've had out-of-body experiences. I can see auras.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela